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Spurs 2-1 PSV: Four Tottenham Observations

1. A Welcome Change of Narrative

Well this rather cocks the hat at a jaunty angle, in response to all those harbingers of doom, gloom and mockery.
Admittedly in the grand scheme of things it is unlikely to make too much difference, for our CL campaign has “Dreadfully sorry, but it’s 3rd place and Europa” etched all over it, but nevertheless. For a spineless, gutless mob incapable of seeing out games, there was a decent slab of spine and gut about the manner in which we clawed this back, particularly so late on in proceedings, and with our margin of error amounting to precisely the square of zero.

All the pre-match bubble and hype was about the need to win at all costs, eradicate mistakes and all that cheery guff – so naturally, this being Spurs, we were one down within a minute.

Not that there was too much in the way of sackcloth and ashes at AANP Towers when that opener landed, for the motto around these parts is that it’s vastly preferable to concede in the first minute than last. Plenty more time to adjust one’s settings, don’t you know?

And thereafter we tore away at PSV like a team of rabid cats feeling particularly irate about their lot. Chances came and went so frequently I wanted to set my watch by them, and the PSV goalkeeper, a chap who appeared at first glance designed for chopping trees and lugging oxen, spent the first 80 minutes thrusting a well-timed mitt at just about everything we threw at him.

It’s worth hammering away the point that, given all of the above, this was tailor-made for a night of ignominy. Instead, we played well throughout, just about kept our discipline and found a way to snatch victory from defeat. One hopes that such stirring sentiments and rousing performances are adopted by our lot every time they set foot on greenery from here on in.

2. Moura

It was one of those nights on which it doesn’t quite seem the square thing to go singling out such-and-such a chap for his efforts, because just about everyone involved worked up a pretty honest sweat for the cause, and with the exceptions of Davies and Son I thought they just about all delivered a meaty thrust too.

But in those irksome first half minutes in which we just couldn’t quite connect the dots, it warmed the heart no end to see Lucas get his head down and set off on a series of mazy dribbles that involved beating every PSV player in sight and haring straight into the middle of their area.

In the land of neat but often sideways passing and probing, the dribbler is king, and Lucas’ contributions to the cause seemed to get the watching hordes on their feet and give everyone a handy shot of adrenaline.

3. Gazzaniga

The murmur for Gazzaniga to be elevated at least one rung up the goalkeeping ladder has gathered momentum in a gentle, underground sort of manner over recent weeks, and to his credit the young bean didn’t disappoint when handed his chance.

The Cruyff turn seemed wildly unnecessary, and there was one errant pass, but that aside his distribution was sensible and his shot-stopping accurate. One in particular, when we were caught on the hop at 1-1, was notable for having been struck like an exocet missile by the looming PSV bod. Gazzaniga, evidently, has reflexes like a cat and wrists like hardened cement for he managed to paw it northwards in what is technically known as a Blur Of Motion.

Not much he could have done about the goal. All told, this chap keeps the pulse of the onlooker a darned sight steadier than Michel Vorm, so it appears that the pecking order might have been permanently altered.

4. Substitutions

By and large there’s nothing but praise for Our Glorious Leader in these parts; except, of course, for when I’m criticising him. And that tends usually to happen when a mid-game change is needed to right a few wrongs.

On this occasion, admittedly, the hooking of Moura, who, as mentioned, had been running pretty rings around PSV – while Sonny laboured to effect but one ring all game – seemed a rummy move. Perhaps fatigue and fitness was the decisive factor in this thinking?

More of a game-changer however, was the addition of Llorente into the mix. Rocket science it admittedly was not, for lilywhite crosses were already raining in, so why not throw in the lumbering giant? But these things are best judged on hindsight, and for his immaculate cushioned lay-off to Kane for the equaliser, Llorente justified his selection, and Pochettino earned a small gold star.

Elsewhere, Winks was excellent; the Eriksen belly appeared brimful with fire; and Dele’s return continues to add a frisson of excitement (even if his tendency to hog the ball continues); but all told this was a triumph for the whole bally mob.

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Inter 2-1 Spurs: Five Tottenham Observations

1. Absolute Gut-Wrenching Frustration, Dash It

Back in the mid-90s, if you had suggested that there is no shame in losing away to Inter, I’d have yelled “Gollazo”, thrust my false ID in your general direction and agreed vigorously. However, things – as sometimes happens – have changed. Inter’s stripey ensemble might retain a certain appeal, but their 2018 on-pitch vintage is pretty crushingly average.

Accordingly, most of the trouble we faced was overwhelmingly of our own doing – and more grumbles on that particular topic below – while our hosts did little more than huff, puff and complain about this and that.
In fact, by around the 70-minute mark Inter had fairly unashamedly thrown in the towel, and simply mooched around the place, killing time until the post-match snifters at the nearest Milanese watering-hole. Our heroes were required to do little more than light cigars and apologetically keep possession as the game and all around it drifted towards a happy conclusion.

In a group like this, three points away from home would have swung the odds pretty handily in our favour. Even one point would have been accepted, albeit sniffily in the cirucmstances. But to have the larder so completely raided, barely ten minutes after having been in complete control, was about as rotten a conclusion as one can imagine.

2. The Morbidly Fascinating Tactic of Repeatedly Trying to Pass Out From The Back

Mind you, it was a good 30 or 40 minutes before one cottoned on to the fact that Inter were not quite the prowling behemoth of yore. In the opening thrusts, we seemed to have our work cut out to keep them at bay, and it is no exaggeration to say that one pursed the lips with concern.

On closer inspection however, it became pretty evident that the nub of all these problems were our own dashed heroes – and in particular the ludicrous tactic of repeatedly trying to pass the ball out from the area at goal kicks.

To say that the plan had a mild flaw or two in its mechanics is to make a pretty fruity bid for Understatement of the Year. Time and again the ball was passed to one or other of the centre-backs, who promptly staggered around it like men who had been drinking in the city centre since mid-morning.

On the rare occasions that they managed to dispense with the thing, it only bobbed around ten yards further up the field, where either Davies or Aurier were on hand to pass it straight to an opponent or trip over themselves while the ball gently rolled out of play. Precious little assistance came from midfield either, where every lilywhite in sight was determined to add their own glaring miscontrol or errant pass to the collection, and the whole thing made football look like the most complex operation imaginable.

It was mind-boggling to behold. Our heroes peddled a solid demonstration of the definition of madness, wondering why a different outcome was not materialising, and seemingly oblivious to the presence of alternatives – the concept of simply blasting the ball into the half being pretty firmly off the agenda. I’m not sure we managed serene progress to the halfway line from a single one of around a dozen first half attempts to pass our way out from the back.

These persistent, determined attempts to stuff the same square pegs into round holes, and the consequent bother they caused us in conceding possession on the edge of our own area, rather distracted from the fact that going forward our front four or so were quietly burrowing their way into the Inter ranks.

Nothing too blistering, heaven forbid, but the little dink from Eriksen to Kane; the occasional over-elaboration from Lamela; the odd dribble from Dembele over halfway – one started to get the impression that Inter were actually there for the taking, if we just applied ourselves. And cleared the lines from goal-kicks, of course.

3. Moura The Impact Sub

Lucas Moura seems not to have received the club-wide memo that all in lilywhite must trudge about the premises looking like they have been flogged half to death all summer. Sprightly whenever he has started a game so far this season, he hit upon the terrific idea of displaying precisely the same degree of spright when introduced as a substitute, and it produced exceptional results.

Credit to the manager were due – and he has a sizeable portion of blame heading his way soon enough – it was a decision that could not have been better timed if he had been rehearsing it for weeks. We led by a goal, Inter were beginning to over-commit and their general energy levels were sapping away like nobody’s business.

Enter Moura, and every Inter defender in sight began queuing up to have the dickens twisted out of them. The only shame was that it did not bring about the second goal that it merited.

4. Aurier Turns In A Half-Decent Display

Frequent visitors to this parish – and indeed, any man, woman or child alive, who has ever cast the merest glance in our direction over the past season – will be well aware that Serge Aurier is a man of questionable defensive prowess.

“Liability” has generally been the mot juste, as the blighter has conceded penalties, earned red cards, sliced clearances and misplaced passes in a pretty determined attempt to establish himself as a dashed nuisance, and raise the blood pressure of approximately half the population of North London.

He started proceedings in typical fashion yesterday – albeit in common with most of his defensive chums. A miscontrol to concede a throw, a wayward header to concede a corner – so far, so Aurier.

Come the second half however, the chap got his act together like a man possessed. Filling in behind the centre-backs like a seasoned sweeper, he cleared up the occasional mess at the back, whilst also channelling his inner Kyle Walker by bombing up the back as if wing-backing were his specialist subject.

All in vain ultimately, and a genuine shame that he was the AWOL marker for the winning goal, but having taken every opportunity to hammer the chap over the past year, it is only fair to applaud him when he remembers his p’s and q’s, so to speak.

5. Poch Decisions

If one were to spot a gentleman going about his business with an umbrella tucked underneath his arm, and then cast a glance skywards and spot cloud formations of the murky variety – well, while one would hardly burst into spontaneous applause, one would nevertheless understand the chap’s rationale, and accept that decision as acceptable enough.

Thus did the replacement of Lamela with Winks strike me. I don’t mind admitting that I eyed the progress of Messrs Son, Eriksen and Lamela with an enthusiastic eye every time they broke over halfway to sniff out glory, and when Lamela was hooked a gentle sadness struck me. Not one of those deep, sighing sadnesses; more of a mildly disappointed shrug. Nevertheless, like the gentleman preparing for rain, one followed the thought process – we led away from home, and Winks, on paper at least, was the sort of egg who could offer a little more protection as the clock ticked down.

However, one can only judge these things in hindsight, and on results. We did lose a sliver of that attacking thrust of the previous twenty minutes, and – while neither goal had much to do with young Winks – we did concede twice. As if Our Glorious Leader did not have enough on his plate, he now has AANP raising a disapproving eyebrow at his mid-game switches.

To say nothing of his pre-game choices. The omissions of both Toby and Trippier rank amongst the most deeply suspicious of our time. Rather like one of those young brides one reads about who convinces her new octogenarian spouse to alter his will and leave her the whole dashed inheritance mere days before his death, this was a fishy move. And once again, hindsight and the result ultimately points to Poch making the wrong calls. Heaven help him if he engages in a game of Scissors-Paper-Stone, for every choice he makes this week, while honest and well-intentioned, ultimately brings about a soggy ending.

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Watford 2-1 Spurs: Four Tottenham Observations

1. Pretty Dashed Ordinary Fare

In truth I could point an accusatory digit at any one of around half a dozen of our mob today, so I’ll dish out a collective fingerwag instead. In the opening exchanges the most that could be said was that our back three looked neat and tidy. Lucas pottered around, and countless corners were swung in and headed away, but it was all about as inspiring as a view from one of the lower decks of the Titanic.

Not that Watford did much of any note either, and when a sequence of stumbles and ricochets resulted in a goal so half-baked it was barely worthy of registering, the reaction at AANP Towers was one of quizzical shrugs and relief that the job was at least being done, albeit with all the aesthetic quality of The Elephant Man on a bad hair day.

Gallingly, it took little more than for Watford to yank one or two of our lot in the cloakroom and demand their lunch money for the whole thing to come crashing down. They bullied us for around ten minutes, which was enough to tootle off with game, set and the whole dashed match. To be so simply bundled out of the way, and for that ten minute spell to be sufficient to defeat us, seems pretty ropey fare.

2. Midfield Impotence

There was something oddly impotent about our midfield throughout. Dembele, who had been making a pretty useful stab of things when hauled from the bench to sprinkle some control onto proceedings in the first couple of games this season, looked, as against United, a tad too casual about life from the off. As if the exact destination of his passing was neither here nor there, so long as one appreciated that in his head he had the right sort of idea.

Neither did he at any point really provide the sort of surge that screams “I no longer care a hang for this, I’m charging straight through the middle and if you want to stop me you’ll pretty well have to grab me by the waist and haul me down.” Young Winks had a stab at the aforementioned, bless him, during his two-minute cameo, but Dembele seemed content to shuttle the ball sideways and backwards, with the air of a man who had somewhere more urgent to be at full-time. Like the Chinese Super League, perhaps.

Christian Eriksen also gave the strangely neutered performance. There were one or two speculative pops from distance, and some token efforts to combine with Trippier on the right, but the suspicion never really disappeared that throughout proceedings he was stifling a yawn.

Admittedly, for one glorious first half moment it appeared that the whole midfield gang had been grabbed by the shoulders and rather violently shaken from their mid-afternoon slumbers, as they popped a series of first-time passes up the field, resulting in Lucas being within a cat’s whisker of a clean shot at goal. That aside, the whole performance had something of the casual about it, and we the viewing public had the right to chunter.

3. Dele’s Multiple Touches

It is hardly fair to pick on an individual, but more for the sake of venting a personal gripe, Dele Alli is doing a terrific job of frustrating the dickens out of yours truly. Throw a football – or even, one suspects, a golf ball, or pebble, or young rodent – at the blighter and you suspect he’ll trap it on his instep with nary a thought, effortlessly flick it up once or twice and nutmeg someone. His technique is not really in question.

However, if our heroes are pinging the ball around hither and thither, once it reaches the Dele size nines it stays with him and life swiftly seeps from the build-up. One- or two-touch jousting is utterly foreign to the young blister. It makes me want to sprint to the nearest brick wall and bang my head against it, such is the frustration. Just pass the dashed thing along! The chap seems physically incapable of releasing it before his sixth touch.

To give him his dues, I find an oddly mesmeric quality to his off-ball movement. On a few occasions in each game so far this season he has channelled his inner Houdini and drifted from the clutches of the nearest foe, to saunter, undetected, into the cauldron of the opposition area, and proceeded to make a nuisance of himself.

It is a pretty nifty skill. It was evidenced today when he was picked out by Toby and looped a header wide, in the first half, and may well be facilitated by the fact that we now have two hardy souls ploughing the attacking furrow.

So pros and cons to the young fish, but the point remains that if I had to swig a dram of the good stuff for every unnecessary touch he applied I suspect I would be slumped across the sofa with my excuses ready for a non-appearance in the office, before the half-time gong had sounded.

4. Kane Similarly Off-Colour

Even the poster boy was skulking around a little moodily, fluffing his lines and trotting down dead-ends, as happens to us all from time to time.

In Kane’s defence, the Job Description ever since the latter stages of the World Cup seems to have been to loiter around halfway wining free-kicks in a Shearer-esque style, so this he obediently does. The presence of Lucas tearing around further up the pitch, while jolly handy for the team, has not necessarily proven the most useful addition to Kane’s own ill-disguised agenda to score all the goals, and as a result one can pretty much count on a single hand the presentable chances he has had so far this season.

Dashed vexing then – and the eagle-eyed will have noticed that vexation is a recurring theme within today’s musings – that when he did finally have a sniff of glory, at 1-0, the young bean, who has spent the last four seasons turning Greed In Front Of Goal into a personal trademark, oddly attempted to pick a slightly unlikely pass, rather than putting his head down and swinging a left clog, or at least having the decency to cut in on his right foot and curl away.

It was simply that sort of day I suppose. No doubt things will be compounded by enemies of the Queen’s English attempting to merge the separate words “lax” and “lackadaisical” in their attempts to describe this afternoon’s lilywhite dirge, and the gloomy mood at AANP Towers will be capped off.

Man Utd 0-3 Spurs: Five Tottenham Observations

1. The Starting XI

Despite the telly box coverage suggesting long into the night that only one team was involved in last night’s binge, and accordingly spending hours dissecting the various ills of the vanquished hosts and their charming manager, my pretty keen sense of sight informed me that a second team was present, and, despite a decidedly iffy start, did a spot of top-notch smashing-and-grabbing, showing a clinical edge the absence of which has been bemoaned in AANP Towers since we were knee-high.

Pre kick-off the omens were surprisingly rosy. The harbingers of doom who have been dining for months off the revelations that Messrs Alderweireld, Rose and Dembele are getting their heads down and haring off towards the exit, were left a tad nonplussed when all three were named in the starting eleven.

And what a starting eleven! Crikey, it was as if the spirit of 2015/16 had suddenly awoken and sprouted the terrific idea to rock up in August 2018 at Old Trafford of all places!

Following a couple of game-changing cameos, Dembele was deposited slap-bang in the middle of the team, to renew the halcyon axis of yesteryear with Dier. And despite the brave faces and earnest explanations, few juries would be convinced that Sanchez and Davies are, pound for pound, better options than Toby and Rose, respectively at rear and rear-left.

With the possible, debatable exception of Son it was our strongest eleven. And all this against a United team that had appeared to have played at least once this season with their shoelaces tied together. “Optimism” would be stretching it, but the whiff at AANP Towers beforehand was definitely on the sweeter side, even if certain members of the mob were not quite up to match fitness.

2. Kamikaze Start

Naturally enough, therefore, the assembled dream team appeared to take the lead from their captain and stagger around the place in the opening thrusts like they had each downed one snifter too many.

Misplaced passes seemed to be the vogue, with Rose most obviously guilty but strongly supported by each of his defensive chums. Dembele’s shield of invincibility appeared to have run out of batteries, while up top we were treated to the sight of World Cup Kane, heroically doing all his work on halfway with back to goal.

One rather winced watching it all unfold, and though we missed out on that penalty call, one might fairly accurately opine that we were a touch fortunate to be level at half-time.

3. Clinical Finishing. Who Knew?

As mentioned in dispatches, our heroes then picked one heck of a time to right the wrong of countless previous seasons and suddenly start taking chances with all the dead-eyed ruthlessness of one of those black-clad snipers in action films shooting from a rooftop several blocks away.

While very much in the game I’m not sure we had a clear-cut opportunity prior to taking the lead, and even that was hardly a regulation slip-catch. It’s not quite a professional medical opinion, but I wouldn’t mind writing a short paper to assert that Harry Kane is not currently fully fit – however, be that as it may, the young nib still knows how to make the best of a raw deal, and leaning backwards, with little more than a postage stamp at which to aim, it was a terrific header.

Moreover, a hop and a skip later we were doing it again. Eriksen is hardly the most flappable chap around anyway, but the coolness he showed to look up and pick his pass, while racing towards the area, was worthy of a cap-doff.
Marvellous also to observe that in a world of dinks and step-overs, Lucas does not hang around when a chance presents itself. While some might idly stand around and gossip – or Lukaku might swing in shots from all angles, hitting everything in sight except the net – Lucas just blasts the dashed thing into the bottom corner before running off to execute that fantastic leap-celebration routine that makes me love him even more.

4. Good Honest Man-Love for Lucas

And while on the subject, this chap had quite the night all round. He seems to do what one has hoped for several years that Lamela might do, if you get me drift. (And to his credit, it was exactly what Lamela did do, last weekend, in setting up Kane’s goal, if you pardon me becoming a little meta.)

To whomever hit upon the idea of playing Lucas as a second striker, rather than an inverted-winger-type, I raise my glass, because it worked a treat. Bursting from deep and haring around like a lifer suddenly granted his freedom, Lucas evidently put the fear of God into the poor, back-pedalling souls ahead of him.

For all the neat, zippy passing, we have rarely boasted an egg with these attributes, not since Bale and rarely beforehand. One or two swallows doth not a sun-tan provide, ‘tis true, but the signs are encouraging. The chap won’t do it every week, but it is a dashed handy string to the bow.

5. Toby

Naturally enough Moura gets the neon lights, but much of the dirty work was done – and with lashings of aplomb – by Toby at the back. Admittedly the first half hour was about as rickety as a poorly-constructed wooden bridge in a gale, but during the second half semi-onslaught in particular the young fish delivered a performance almost as immaculate as his hair.

Sanchez has bedded in exceptionally well over the past 12 months, but Toby is utterly peerless. This may still be a cunning ruse to bump his value before shoving him out Stage Left, but if this were a valedictory performance it was a rousing one. Hang on to him, and the chances of this being a defining season at N17 increase exponentially. And who doesn’t want one of those curves on their graph?

Like what you read? AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes is pretty reasonably priced on Amazon…

Spurs 3-1 Fulham: Four Tottenham Observations

1. The Return of Toby Alderweireld

Quite the unexpected bonus to hoop up and see Toby’s name on the teamsheet, what? Rather like turning up to school expecting the usual six hours of drudgery, and being told instead that all lessons are off as a visiting circus has popped in to entertain the dickens out of everyone.

Absence makes the heart grow fonder and all that, and there was something terrifically reassuring about seeing Toby and his immaculate hair pop himself on the right of the back three and get to work.

Not that there was much work to be done in truth. Bar that awkward fifteen minutes or so when Fulham scored, one got the feeling that our defensive bods spent most of the afternoon simply swapping stories about their World Cup adventures.

So if you want a blow by blow account of the young imp’s performance it might make for pretty dreary reading. Suffice to say he did little wrong, and if blame should be apportioned anywhere for the goal conceded Messrs Sanchez and Davies ought probably to have fingers wagged in their direction.

What the future might hold for Toby is presumably known only by Levy, Poch, Toby himself and one or two select others, who communicate via knowing nods and mysterious handshakes. This whole episode might simply have been a cunning plan to scrape off the rust and give the chap a glossy sheen with which to preen in the transfer window. Hope nevertheless springs like nobody’s business here at AANP Towers that the chap will still be in situ for the coming season’s rigours.

2. Lucas Moura-Watch

For those amongst you who are not up to date on these things, I can assure you that one or two nibs have been quite beside themselves at the fact that our Commander-in-Chief kept the wallet firmly out of view all summer, with not a single signing made. That particular barrel of fish is worth an entire thesis in itself, with rights, wrongs and nuances in every dashed direction – but the upshot of it all is that the nearest thing we have a to a new signing this season is a fully-acclimatised Lucas Moura.

As the mathematically-talented will have noted, it’s two starts in two games for the chap now. I don’t mind admitting that the fleeting glimpses of him last season had set my hopes sky-rocketing, for here appeared to be a chap who’s great thrill in life was to put his head down and run at pace at terrified defences, rather like a Brazilian version of our own tearaway Prime Minister.

Curiously enough, this season has seen precious little of those mazy, pacy dribbles. There is a sense in which I wanted to dig out the receipt and check the T’s and C’s of the Moura purchase, because I was very much of the opinion that we were sold the chap precisely on that proviso, but in fairness it turns out that he has various other strings to his bow.

Most impressive to me was his out-of-possession workrate. This should not surprise, I suppose, because Poch has long been an evangelist of that sort of muck, so it would have made little sense to sign the blighter unless he were fully on board. Nevertheless, like one of those chappies at school who would spend every spare minute with his head down, beavering away at his geography homework, Lucas seemed to determine to impress the man in charge, and the Fulham back-line were barely given a moment’s peace.

End-product was a rather mixed bag. He overran an early chance (and might have had a penalty for his troubles), missed a jolly straightforward header and then scored an absolute peach of a goal. For the second consecutive week I consider that we have not yet seen the best of the blighter, but nevertheless there was a decent amount in there to encourage.

3. A Loving Ode to Kieran Trippier

Unlikely thought it might have sounded a year or two ago, Kieran Trippier is fast establishing himself as one of the most well-loved cherubs in our ranks.

For a start he has the distinct advantage of not being Serge Aurier, and this talent manifested itself in abundance on Saturday, in the first half in particular, when Trippier time and again made himself available as the de facto right winger, and was duly handed the ball and invited to make merry. Be it a delicate dink from Eriksen or a cross-field ping from Kane or Dele, the ball was repeatedly churned out to him and he made pretty nifty use of it.
Blessed with the ability to deliver crosses whipped or half-volleyed, he was pretty much our main attacking outlet.

When the opener did eventually come it was sparked by neither a whip nor a half-volley, but a cute dink to the byline where Eriksen was chasing. Quite how Fulham overlooked Trippier’s threat after the summer he’s had is a little perplexing, but thus did the cookie crumble.

And then to top things off, that free-kick was positively Beckham-esque. Hard-working and blessed with a wand of a right-foot, Trippier is fast establishing himself as the sort of egg I would like a daughter to bring home.

4. In-Game Changes

As frequenters to these parts will know, I worship fairly committedly at the altar of Our Glorious Leader, but being an honest sort I am equally unafraid to point out his flaws, with all the expert knowledge of a seasoned armchair critic. And chief amongst these is his typical inability to affect a game in good time. Throw a mid-game crisis Poch’s way and his tendency is to wait until the clock ticks beyond 80+ before swapping a full-back, and maybe throwing on Llorente for injury-time. Hardly the zenith of innovation (and a textbook from which Gareth Southgate appears similarly to operate).

On Saturday however, Pochettino was flinging around game-changing inputs like a chap with a sports almanac in one hand and the keys to a DeLorean in the other. With Fulham level and threatening to lead, Dier was hooked, the back-three dispensed with and a diamond introduced, with Dembele at its base. The balance of power gradually eased back our way, and an admiring glass could be raised in the direction of the grand fromage.

Lamela’s introduction followed soon after, and again the impact was pretty prompt. Lamela did what I had rather expected Lucas to do, and hared straight through the middle, to set up Kane.

There was even time to re-introduce young Master Winks from the bench, giving us what might be our last ever glimpse of the Winks-Dembele midfield axis, for around 45 glorious seconds.

All told, it was a smart few minutes between the Pochettino ears, and having buried the chap often enough on these grounds it is only right to praise him now.

Like what you read? AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes is pretty reasonably priced on Amazon…

Newcastle 1-2 Spurs: Five Lilywhite Observations

1. A Result to Remember Come May ‘19

The pedant may mutter that it was a mite reckless to use up an entire season’s worth of good fortune in the opening game; and the purist may well grumble that this fare will have few at the top table quivering in their boots; but given the circumstances this win was pretty valuable stuff, two bonus points for May ‘19.

With United already having won, City likely to set off like a train and Liverpool fans rather unusually suggesting that this might actually be their year, the last thing we needed was to fall off the pace with a stodgy result in our opener.

Moreover, half of our heroes arrived at the ground still wearing flip-flops and smeared in Factor 30, their post-World Cup jollies having been rather rudely interrupted by the day-job. For before you could say “How terrific that nine of our players feature in the World Cup Semi-Finals!” the realisation dawned that those same nine would be in no fit state for a full 90 minutes huff and puff come mid-August.

And on this front the doom-mongers had a point. Aside from some sporadic passages of possession, there was little to suggest that our lot were anything more than half-cooked. Blameless enough, given the circumstances, but most assuredly not the stuff of which dreams are made. In possession we were pretty slack, misplacing passes rather casually, and for various nerve-shredding periods when not in possession we were teetering on the edge of last-ditch defending. It all looked decidedly wobbly as the clock ticked down – making this every bit more a win to cherish.

(A word of consolation towards our vanquished hosts –which I’m sure will mean the world to them – for having rattled the woodwork twice, missed some eminently presentable one-on-ones and conceded a goal by a matter of literally millimetres, they are presumably wondering what more they needed to do to earn a point. Conversely, we did not so much flirt with Lady Luck as whisk her away for a no-expenses spared weekend of her life in some exotic location.)

2. Vertonghen Gets The AANP Nod

The fellows who know these things awarded the Man of the Match brick to Dele Alli, and the eagle-eyed will follow the logic of that one, young Dele having delivered the coup de grâce, channelled his inner Platt/Scholes/Lampard for various bursts from deep and also embellished proceedings with a quite marvellous passive nutmeg of Yedlin. So far, so Man of the Match.

That said, however, the AANP vote went to Jan Vertonghen. Much of the game was played on the back foot, and Vertonghen needed his wits about him a few times to intercept passes of the more cunning variety, as well as doing a spot of good, honest out-muscling.

On top of which, he poached the opening goal, with an opportunism that seemed to fly completely under the radar of the bods paid to commentate on such matters.

The perplexing status of Toby (on the payroll yet regarded with that same disgust one normally reserves for those who grab axe and go on rampage) and the occasional youthful indiscretion of Sanchez (guilty of daydreaming while the Newcastle egg wandered in behind to score) means that Vertonghen is very much the robust sort of block upon which a heck of a lot ought to be built.

3. The Rest of the Post-World Cup Mob: Trippier, Lloris, Kane, Dembele

The AANP eye was keenly trained upon those of World Cup Semi-Final ilk. As noted, Dele pottered around usefully and Vertonghen was obliged to tick boxes left, right and centre.

Our glorious leader, recognising that Kieran Trippier has taken his rightful spot alongside Mbappe, Modric et al as one of the stars of the global game, evidently felt that St James’ Park is beneath Kieran Trippier. And quite rightly so. It meant that the marvellous young fish was spared the indignity of Newcastle away.

Monsieur Lloris, our resident World Cup-winning captain, was mercifully spared the torture of having to handle too many back-passes. He stuck gamely to the essentials of the thing – catching and punching like a man who emerged from the womb in such fashion – and his dive at the feet of Kenedy in the second half may well have earned us two points, so a great big “Très bien” against his name.

As for our resident World Cup Golden Boot-winner, this was one of those outings pretty heavy on perspiration but with little to blow up anyone’s skirt. For a chap who’s a proven dab-hand at goalscoring he was forced to spend a lot of his working day ploughing that furrow that spans around ten yards either side of the halfway line. A dashed good job he did of it too, shielding the ball and laying things off as we all know he can do. Nearer the goal, however, his mechanics were not quite right, the rather worrying truth being that he looked like a man in need of a rest. Little chance he’ll get one mind, until, perhaps, Summer 2019.

And finally, a few adoring words for Mousa Dembele. By all accounts the Dembele limbs have handed in their notice, and the chap is not much longer for this sceptre isle – but cometh the nervous final fifteen minutes, cometh one heck of a cameo.

A common concern from AANP Towers during the Pochettino Years has been our lack of an experience head amongst the frivolous youths, to help see out games. Yesterday, Dembele filled that void with aplomb, fulfilling very duty laid out in the Job Spec. Strength to hold off all-comers, technique to protect the ball like a newborn – nothing we haven’t seen before of course, but massively effective, and alongside the yellow-carded Dier and earnest-but-average Sissoko he played a pretty prominent role in steering the good ship Hotspur to port.

4. Sissoko and Aurier – Plus ça Change

Much has been made of the fact that the status quo has been maintained when it comes to playing personnel, and accordingly, with a rather damning inevitability, on the opening day of the season we were treated to the sight of Messieurs Sissoko and Aurier weaving their own unique brand of wizardry on the right flank.

Sissoko is certainly an earnest chappie, and rather brings to mind the old cricketing mantra that nobody drops a catch on purpose. Time after time his forward passes seemed perfectly well-intentioned but just didn’t quite hit their mark.

To his credit, his sideways and backwards stuff admirably evaded danger, and on one or two occasions he also used his brute force to good effect, in winning possession. A thought occasionally springs to the AANP mind that the blighter might be better employed as a centre-back, but that’s more one for idle dinner-party conversation. Sissoko is here to stay, since, as the official party line so correctly indicates, there is nobody available who might improve our starting eleven…

Meanwhile there was something strangely comforting in seeing Aurier ceding possession and letting onrushing attackers glide past him unnoticed. That old feeling of familiarity returned, like a beloved friend not encountered for some time.

And then, to give the blighter his undoubted due, he delivered the cross of the season to date, an absolute peach, the like of which mini-Auriers will whisper of in hushed and wide-eyed tones for generations to come. It would have been rude of Dele to miss.

5. Frustrations of Lucas & Son

I don’t mind admitting that the AANP pulse quickened pleasingly at the sight of Lucas’ name on the teamsheet, and when the chap took an early opportunity to tear at the Newcastle defence I positively squawked my approval.

That, alas, was about as good as it got in Moura Towers, because the chap did little more than flit around the periphery thereafter. I suppose his crack legal team will have a pretty lengthy defence prepared for him along the lines of the fact that if he is not given the ball he can hardly be expected to race around with the dashed thing, and one would see their point. Nevertheless, I am inclined to politely clear the throat and mention that he might have done a little more in the line of scavenging himself.

One suspects that at some point he will deliver an absolutely blistering performance, running rings around just about everyone in the vicinity, scoring two and making a few more – but today was not that day.

And finally, young Sonny. Given the much-vaunted lack of preparation of Dele and Kane, and the fact that Son himself imminently has to do the honourable thing for his country, I was jolly taken aback to see the chap withheld from proceedings both at the outset and later on. Once introduced he tore around as if his coiled spring had just been released, so it was a shame we had to wait so long, and odd that we did not utilise him while we could.

Still, those called upon just about did what was necessary, and given how easy it would have been for all concerned to have made excuses if we did not stagger over the line this is a win to be lauded.

Like what you read? AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes is pretty reasonably priced on Amazon…

West Brom 0-1 Spurs: Four Tottenham Observations

1. Not The Abysmal Showing I’d Been Promised

A confession of sorts to begin with, as it’s generally best to air these things at the outset – I did not view the game live, so by the time the telly-box re-ran the binge in its entirety I was already well aware of the outcome.

The reports I received gave the impression that it was one of those catastrophic affairs, in which the undead roam the streets, cars and buildings are set alight and humanity is generally going to pot. I braced myself accordingly, poured a more generous than normal dram of the good stuff and settled in.

And was pleasantly surprised. I hesitate to say it, as one prefers not to incur the wrath of one’s public, but I thought we started fairly healthily. Admittedly every set-piece swung into our area caused absurd levels of panic, but those were pretty rare as we cunningly hogged possession. Moreover this was not one of those turgid affairs in which the ball is monotonously shuttled sideways, and all and sundry stick rigidly to their place of dwelling, offering no movement.

Au contraire, there was decent movement and the ball was accordingly shoved around pretty nippily, as well as the usual work-rate that ensured we tended to win back the ball before most of the dignitaries had registered that it had gone. Toby was back in the fold, and wasted little time in pinging his diagonals, while the back-three allowed both Vertonghen to sneak into midfield and the wing-backs to set up camp well over halfway.

We made some respectable chances too – both Kane and Lamela were clean through, and Wanyama’s effort drew a save. Frankly, had I not been oddly blessed with the benefit of hindsight I would have suggested that while no classic, we seemed to be peddling our wares in honest fashion.

2. Short Corners

I appreciate that our Glorious Leader would have taken one look at the opposition teamsheet and decided that the aerial route was strictly for extreme circumstances only, but nevertheless the relentless barrage of comically inept short-corner routines that we delivered throughout did rather make one scratch the head.

There was one glorious throwback to the Anderton-Sheringham era, when Eriksen swept in a low corner and Kane swung a boot at the near post.

That aside one received the impression that precisely nobody involved in these little scenes had remembered their lines. It was questionable whether any of them had been rehearsed at all, as nobody seemed quite sure what was supposed to happen, and between two or three men in lilywhite they contrived to oversee an elaborate process of funnelling the ball back towards halfway, or allowing the ball to trickle apologetically out of play. A little more training ground time appears in order.

3. Toby and Danny Rose

Why these two were suddenly included yesterday, having been pretty unsubtly sidelined for months, is anyone’s guess.

Maybe Poch is keen to remind potential suitors of their value? Maybe he would like to see them sharpen up ahead of the World Cup? Maybe he simply puts all the squad numbers in a hat and picks them out at random?

Whatever the rationale, it was nice to see the pair back in lilywhite. Toby slotted in like he had never been away, and seemed to inspire Davinson Sanchez to similarly great heights. That said, the caveat should be added that this serenity applied only to open play, for set-pieces were an entirely different kettle of fish, with none of our lot looking remotely comfortable when peering upwards at the West Brom aerial barrage.

Danny Rose had a marvellous joust with the West Brom right-back Nyom, winning some and losing some but competing throughout like his life depended on it, which is not something that has ever been said of Ben Davies in the entirety of human history.

Rose’s push-and-shove with Nyom, who stood around two feet taller and three stone heavier, was possibly the highlight of the entire game, and although by the letter of the law Rose might have seen red for raising hand to face, the delayed and dramatic dive that followed from Nyom was good, wholesome comedy.

As with Kyle Walker back in yesteryear, Rose seems to be the sort of bean who cares deeply about his personal duels, and has more than a sprinkling of robustness in his DNA. Not the sort of character upon whom Spurs has traditionally built its reputation, and we will be weaker for his likely departure. Even if he did make quite the pig’s ear of his attempted clearance for the West Brom goal.

4. Lucas Moura’s Cameo

One presumes that next season Lucas Moura will be upgraded from Special Guest Star to Main Cast, because glimpses of him have been pretty fleeting since his January arrival, but generally worth the wait.

Yesterday was no exception, as he put his head down and made a beeline straight for the heart of the West Brom defence every time he received possession, drawing fouls and generally prompting our hosts to run scurry around in a bit of a tizz.

While Son, Lamela and Dele all have quick, jinking feet, none have Lucas’ capacity to run with the ball at pace. It nearly did the trick yesterday, despite limited air-time, and it would be good to see the young egg play a more prominent role in things when next season rumbles around.

Like what you read? AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes is pretty reasonably priced on Amazon…

Spurs 1-3 Man City: Five Tottenham Observations

1. Off-The-Ball Struggles

I don’t think I’d be deceiving my public in suggesting that that was right up there with the more underwhelming nights in recent memory. Admittedly few of us would have had particularly wild expectations, but City’s recent form was enough to have some of us glancing surreptitiously at one another and whispering “What ho?” with a mischievous smile and a knowing wink or two.

But any such inclings of unlikely glory were given a damn good kicking in that opening half hour. I had, reasonably enough, hoped that we might have taken the game to our visitors and got stuck in at them from the off, to test their mettle so to speak.

Whether that approach might have worked we will never know, because they zapped the ball around as if it were a beam of light, and none of our lot touched the dashed thing until we were two down.

We were not undone by any moments of individual brilliance as much as a bit of a tactical shoeing, as the City chappies oozed from one position to another, and collectively from one formation to another, all of which made our brains melt. Our off-the-ball approach, so often something of a nifty secret weapon, was reduced to the rather depressing sight of simply pattering around a couple of yards behind play, desperately wanting to pause for breath and clarify north from south.

2. Dembele – Genius With A Potential Flaw

I suspect the weekly adoration of Dembele might become a little wearisome to the unconverted, but in this parish it continues like nobody’s business. To say that the chap is merely a “dribbler” is a bit like saying that Grace Kelly or some other such Hollywood siren is “rather a looker” – that is, while true enough per se, it doesn’t really begin to do justice the manifold talents on show.

I can honestly say I have never set eyes upon another soul who gildes past opponents as well as our man. And without wanting to labour the point, it is not as if he throws in an array of befuddling stepovers and party-tricks either. The chap can seemingly send two or three opponents spiralling off in the wrong direction simply by means of a shoulder-dip, some pretty magnetic close control and the body strength of one of the more Herculean bulls going around.

All of which is topping stuff, and has the locals bursting into applause on a regular basis. Look closely enough at the fledgling stages of any Tottenham attack and as often as not you’ll find Dembele’s fingerprints riddling the thing.

However, when we are not in possession – as happened for great swathes of the match yesterday – Dembele’s star burns a little less brightly. The chap is not really blessed with the indefatigable energy reserves of many of his lilywhite chums, and in truth his principle means of terminating an opposing attack tends to be the slightly unrefined Cynical Haul of the Shoulders.

Now personally I am of the opinion that Dembele’s value on the ball pretty much excuses his failings as a defensive midfielder when not in possession, but it is a thought worth chewing over. To pad out the point, a general inability to affect things when not in possession is my principle reason for arguing against the inclusion of First-Rate Rotter Jack Wilshere in the England team.

3. Kane – Fully Fit?

Given the moral outrage generated this week by the public declaration of a striker that he wanted to score goals, I was under the impression that Harry Kane would only ever touch the ball to shoot or tee himself up for a shot. Picture my surprise then, when he found himself around the edge of the area and opted to slide a pass in for Eriksen (to do what Sonny never would, and go flying in amongst the limbs to score), rather than blast the thing goalwards himself.

That, alas, was about as fruity as the participation got for our golden boy. Had I noticed him at any other point in the game I would have observed that he was pretty anonymous, which makes one think.

As someone with zero medical knowledge I don’t mind opining that the young bean did not look fully fit, from my vantage point. Where previously he would dash down the channels like some buccaneering hero, or drop deep to shield the ball and spray to onrushing chums, yesterday there was something of the amble about his gait.

No doubt he sweated a good honest gallon or so of the honest stuff, but he barely got anywhere near the ball throughout. (Not that much can really be done if he is indeed lacking match practise, other than giving him more matches.)

4. Upbeat Stuff From Lucas

By contrast, Lucas Moura set about the thing with all manner of vim and gusto once introduced.

There is, I suppose, the eternal pessimist’s concern that the blighter might be all flash and glitz and whatnot, and no actual end-product – presumably Time, as she often does, will have the final say on that one.

But for now, or, more accurately, then, Lucas’ quick feet and general impression of an eel of the particularly slippery variety quickened the pulse in a most welcome manner. One imagines that tiring defenders would groan and curse at the introduction of such a rascal, and I for one hope that he upgrades from cameo roles sooner rather than later.

5. Another Day, Another Lloris Clanger

What the dickens is up with the chap? His errors of judgement are becoming so regular and costly that somebody somewhere will soon write a strongly-worded letter about it to the one of the big cheeses.

Admittedly the foul was outside the area – but, by heck, what a foul! He could not have been less subtle if he had set off from his line with an axe slung over his shoulder and brandishing a sign that read “Regardez! I’m looking for a striker to upend.” Not the sort of thing for which he earns the weekly envelope, I’m pretty damned sure.

Watching the ghastly scene unfold did make me pause and stroke the chin, and wonder what had become of those halcyon days in which Lloris played as a genuine “Sweeper Keeper”, to coin a phrase. Back then, it was as common a sight as a singing lark to see the young egg haring fully thirty yards from his goal to triumphantly intercept an opposition pass and boot it roughly back when it came.

Such interventions would be jolly useful in season 2017/18, given that our eye-wateringly high defensive line often begins business up around the halfway line, but Lloris seems to have decided that racing off his line to help out his back four is now strictly for nostalgic reminiscence only.

So we are left with a defeat that we suspected might come our way, and which does not do much damage to our Top Four push – but finishing third has now become a mite trickier, which bothers me a tad, given that 4th spot would presumably mean a CL play-off during post-World Cup season. The brow furrows.

Like what you read? AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes is pretty reasonably priced on Amazon…

Spurs 6-1 Rochdale: Five THFC Observations

1. VAR, Apparently

Just as well we started thumping in goals from all angles in the second half, because by the midway point of the first half the two dozen or so brave souls who had made the pilgrimage to Wembley appeared ready to grab the nearest pitchfork and riot, in protest at VAR and the accompanying lunacy.

If you are looking for some semblance of sanity or explanation in this direction you can jolly well look elsewhere, because AANP was even more discombobulated than usual. Not only were VAR decisions being made according to the toss of a coin or spin of a wheel, or whatever sorcery it is, but I had the pleasure of watching the whole thing unfold from the rear end of a bar in Malta of all places, which had wisely decided to shun the witterings of the standard commentators and instead peddle a marvellous range of 80s power ballads and 90s pop as the audio backdrop to proceedings. A pretty ripe deal, you might think, and I certainly would not trade it, but without someone narrating the thing it was blank looks all round whenever the ref’s eyes lit up and the VAR machine rolled into town.

So when Lamela’s early “goal” was disallowed, with replays showing nobody offside, no simulation and about as much physical contact as one would normally expect from a game of chess, I could do little more than exchange a quizzical look with my old man, AANP Senior, while R. Kelly warbled in my ear that he could fly.

The decision to award the penalty seemed a slightly rummy one to me, the foul having begun a good few metres outside the area, but having bravely fought off the attentions of his marker for as long as was bearable, young Trippier’s little legs could support him no longer. And while few juries would possibly have convicted on those grounds, Trippier wisely enough reasoned that where there is VAR there is hope for even the most unlikely infraction to be awarded; and Bryan Adams gently crooned his satisfaction.

That said, the decision then to disallow the Son’s goal made me cast a few severe glances around the place like nobody’s business. A Spurs-supporting chum of mine kindly sent me an image from the FA website no less, on the various dos and don’ts of penalty kickery, on which was inscribed the specific words “Feinting is permitted”. It’s permitted, dash it! If anything, the FA bods are practically encouraging it! And while Baltimora’s “Tarzan Boy” admittedly did a mighty job of soothing this particular savage soul, the injustice of it all had me chuntering away into my Maltese lager.

2. Attacking Trio

So it was with a cocktail comprising two thirds bewilderment and one third effrontery that I sipped the half-time restorer and was serenaded by that virile old devil, Marvin Gaye. VAR had stood virtually as an extra line of defence; our own defence had switched off a little too regularly for comfort, and the Sissoko-Winks defensive screen had a distinctly porous whiff about it.

The saints be praised then, that the attacking triumvirate of Lamela, Son and Lucas were going about their business with gay old abandon. Each one of them bounded around the place as if to say, “Hello! If we play our cards right there could be all sorts of goods on offer here,” and accordingly they came fully armed with trickery on the ball and a decent level of work off it.

Lucas in particular appears to do exactly as advertised in the catalogue, which ought really to be barely worthy of mention, but given that our history of big-money signings has the same calamitous air about is as the passenger list of The Titanic, this is actually quite the triumph. Unlike anyone else in lilywhite he seems capable of skipping past opponents at in Full Gallop mode. On top of which, the young bean knows when to hang on to the ball and when to give it, as evidenced by the part he played in more than one goal. While admittedly this particular flexibility has only been fully demonstrated to date in two encounters with Rochdale, it still gets the juices flowing, as it were.

And if one were to step back, stroke the chin and survey the wider landscape, one might even suggest that there is now a degree of competition or reserve for Messrs Eriksen and Alli. Admittedly nobody is in the class of the former, but having a couple of viable options is no bad thing.

3. Llorente

I suppose that having wasted no opportunity to throw curses around like confetti whenever Senor Llorente has tripped over his own feet, it is only right to doff a cap and raise a glass or two when he scores a perfect hat-trick.

Prior to that point it was the usual fare from him: delightfully-weighted lay-offs coupled with an infuriating inability – or maybe just stubborn refusal, who knows? – to throw his weight around, work up a sweat and win a few blasted headers.

However, his first goal was an exquisite finish, and thereafter he did what a good striker ought to do. While goals at home to Rochdale perhaps do not raise the chap’s stock to the extent that global markets will be in disarray, it does mean that his confidence will be heading north, his teammates might be a little less nervous about his presence than they were 24 hours ago, and Harry Kane was granted a night off.

4. The Usual Array of Slightly Bewildering Substitutions

Other luminaries were less fortunate than Kane, however. With the tie in the bag, and the weather atrocious, our glorious leader hit upon the faintly ludicrous area of instructing Mousa Dembele, the undisputed owner of the Most Important Whilst Being Most Fragile award, to don a t-shirt and go haring about in the snow for half an hour. And ten minutes later he had Dele doing the same.
Quite what the heck he thought any of the above would achieve is absolutely beyond me. No good could possibly have resulted, and there seemed, in shipping forecast parlance, a moderate-to-fair chance of someone hurtling through the snow to their doom.
On top of which, while Erik Lamela charged around the pitch on his weekly mission to get himself sent off in double-quick time, Pochettino saw fit to remove Son, and leave Lamela to challenge the referee to a thirty-minute game of Chicken.

For all his virtues – and the list is as long as they come – Pochettino does come across as an odd sort of egg when it comes to substitutions, the type who will see we need a goal in the final ten minutes and bring on Trippier for Dier.

5. Snow

It matters little I suppose, but if you are after a blow-by-blow account of the final half hour or so you are most certainly in the wrong neck of the woods, because I could barely see a blasted thing. Having spent five minutes shouting over Justin Bieber to suggest to AANP Senior that they might want to use a yellow ball, I finally noticed that they were indeed using a yellow ball, and it was adding nothing in the Visibility column.

Nice to see Walker-Peters get five minutes; nicer to see that the Grand Fromage opted against hurling on Harry Kane for a wince-inducing and pointless five minutes; and thoroughly heart-warming to see Walker-Peters sprinting away in celebration after presumably scoring his first Spurs goal, although in real-time it simply appeared that he was going through a rigorous warm-up routine sans ball.

Like what you read? AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes is pretty reasonably priced on Amazon…

Palace 0-1 Spurs: Five THFC Observations

1. Lackadaisical From Top To Bottom

The quickest route from A to B, so the boffins used to instruct me, is in a straight line, which seems a reasonable enough way of approaching that particular conundrum; but if you are a member of the good ship Hotspur it pretty much is a condition of employment these days that anything resembling a straight line gets tossed out of the window, and the most convoluted and complicated way of doing things is instead selected. Be it Juve or Liverpool, or Newport or Rochdale, our lot have recently been quite taken by the idea of drawing out matters and increasing the tension minute by minute.

So, rather than scoring a couple of goals in the first ten minutes, as was briefly threatened, nerves were frayed, fingernails gnawed to bone and curses flung around like confetti, until the 89th minute for goodness sake.

Despite being utterly dominant from first bell to last, we managed also to be incredibly slack and error-strewn throughout. And whereas this is normally the cue to take a deep breath and launch into a tirade against Sissoko, today the culprits were the much-feted A-listers in our ranks, which makes the mind boggle a bit.

Eriksen and Dembele, upon whom one would normally bet one’s right arm to keep possession ticking over, kept gifting the ball to Palace as if they’d been practising it all week. Harry Kane, upon whom would happily wager the life of a less-cherished cousin to stick away a couple of six-yard chances, made rather a pig’s ear of his opportunities in the opening 88 minutes.

Just about everyone else in lilywhite was similarly careless (young Sanchez can maybe be exonerated). It was almost as if the collective attitude was a carefree shrug, and the general sentiment that “Accuracy doesn’t really matter, Kane will presumably pop up at the death and we’ll win anyway, what?”

2. Aurier Finding New Ways To Be A Liability

As mentioned, Sanchez got his lines right throughout, which is no mean feat when up against a robust soul like Benteke, and alongside him, while his distribution certainly veered towards the errant, Dier nailed the bread-and-butter of keeping Palace forwards at bay.

Come to think of it, Ben Davies also mixed rough with smooth in a passable sort of way. The chap’s crossing tends to have a success rate that lurks in 50-50 territory, but as the game wore and the second half became one-way traffic he at least had the good sense to set up camp well inside the Palace half and provide a left-flank option.

And on that note, of picking a respectable position and giving the opposition something about which to brood, one should probably give Serge Aurier his due; he was always available. Here at AANP Towers we also noticed Aurier execute an impeccably-timed sliding tackle to spare our blushes, which beforehand I would have ranked as about as likely as a flying dinosaur landing on the pitch, so it just goes to show.

But whereas Aurier is normally an absolute liability in defence, he picked today to demonstrate that when it comes to fouling things up in the most ghastly and imbecilic manner, he is as capable of demonstrating these abilities in attack. Taking multiple foul-throws is really the sort of rot for which a professional footballer ought to have a finger lopped off, as well as sacrificing his entire weekly packet. Just to hammer home the farcical nature of Life as Serge Aurier, the blighter then managed to miss an open goal from around three yards by treading on the ball or some such nonsense.

3. Dele Alli: Dives and Penalties

There was an unsightly moment midway through the second half when young Dele flung himself to ground over the onrushing goalkeeper, with not an opposition limb in sight.

I do not have much problem with he or anyone else rediscovering the joys of gravity if – and it’s rather a crucial if – an opponent has bludgeoned, belted or even gently brushed against him. After all, referees will not award a free-kick if a chap stays upright; and if contact is made with man rather than ball, then a jury has every right to convict.

As it happened, Dele might have had a penalty not long beforehand, when a Palace defender (van Aanholt?) tried to dispossess him with a fairly wild swing of his peg. But the dive over the goalkeeper was an attempt to cheat, and while he is unlikely to be shoved in a dungeon and have the key lobbed into a nearby moat, the young buck will hardly be able to complain if he is politely told to biff off and amuse himself in other ways for three games.

Aside from the charge sheet against Dele himself, it is probably worth pointing out that we had an absolutely nailed on penalty (the goalkeeper against Davies) turned down in the opening moments, for no discernible reason other than that goalkeepers are sometimes granted licence to clatter folk. Kane might also have had a penalty, on a technicality, but life sometimes gives us these crosses to bear.

4. Team Selection

While most of the game was spent huffing, puffing and misplacing, the choice of personnel at the outset did make me arch a quizzical eyebrow or two.

The absence of Vertonghen was fair enough – a man is allowed to be injured every now and then – but while the same can officially be said of Alderweireld, it seems that the latter’s days in lilywhite might be numbered, which is a dashed shame.

Now I don’t really know the ins and outs of these contract negotiations, and while I would love to imagine that it is simply two men sitting opposite each other and shouting numbers back and forth, I suspect the truth is a little more complex; but could we not just find a way to give the chap the dosh he wants, through bonuses or hidden treasure or whatever it is? Heck, and do the same for the rest of them, if it means parity of payment. Seems a tad simpler than trying to identify another world-class centre-back at a bargain price, but then I’ve always been pretty nifty at solving all of life’s problems from this particular armchair.

Getting back to the teamsheet, I had actually swallowed a gulp or two when I saw the back-four announced, neither Dier nor Aurier being exactly the most watertight in the business, but I need not really have worried on that front, as Palace struggled to get over the halfway line.

The demotion of Son made sense, as the chap has slightly gone off the boil in recent weeks, following his all-conquering winter spell, and Lamela has looked sharp. Given that, one wonders how long before Dele serves some time on the bench.

I had also hoped that Lucas Moura would produce a little more than he did when eventually introduced, but the chap’s engine barely started. Early days though.

5. A Triumph For Football

In truth, the whole affair was fairly forgettable, but having spent the entire game trying only to defend, it struck me as good for football, and mankind as a whole, that the ultra-defensive approach adopted by Palace was rewarded with concession of a last-minute goal. The moral of the story was that being defensive doesn’t pay, and I can’t think of a more noble message to send to the children.

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