All Action, No Plot

Tottenham Hotspur – latest news, opinion, reports, previews, transfers, gossip, rants… from one bewildered fan
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CL Final Preview: 5 Steps to the Final in the Lifelong Journey of a Tottenham Fan

5 things Tottenham must do to win here.
6 players who took Tottenham to the Final here.

1. The 1987 FA Cup Final

The day before the Champions League Final, and excitement levels have now shot fairly comfortably through the roof, and are gaily whizzing about in the stratosphere.
In a neat symmetry, AANP’s first lilywhite memory was also a Cup Final, the 1987 FA Cup, a cinematic viewing that made for a pretty fitting way in which to take one’s first step in this absurd journey.

At that stage I suspect I had little idea of what Europe was, let alone the Champions League ruddy Final, but there it began, in a terraced house in Tottenham in front of a black and white screen. The whole thing provided a neatly appropriate template for what was to come in the following three decades, and in particular this season’s Champions League romp – our lot would simply refuse to do things simply if they could instead be done in the most absurd, nerve-shredding fashion.

An early goal, a lead squandered and defeat achieved in barely credible manner – the seeds of the all action no plot approach were not so much sown as shoved down the throat. Our heroes, it was immediately clear, would insist on doing things the hard way.

As an impressionable youth I naively interpreted our second-minute goal that day as a sign that supporting Spurs would be a barrel of laughs, logic dictating that we would score at two-minute intervals for the rest of time.

Alas, the first, critical lesson of Spurs-supporting was yet to come. With the game poised at 2-2 in extra-time, our lot did not just contrive to lose, they flicked through the entire playbook of nonsense and picked out the most nonsensical option of the lot. A harmless cross bounced off the knee of Gary Mabbutt, and looped in a most geometrically-pleasing parabola over Ray Clemence and into the net. Death by own-goal, having led in the second minute. How very Tottenham.

Back in those days, before I had discovered the joys of a stiff bourbon, I digested proceedings by hitting the Lego bricks hard and recreating the barely credible scenes witnessed, but already there would be no turning back.

2: Gazza, 1991 And All That

By this stage the young AANP was already so obsessed with Spurs that it’s a wonder my parents did not cart me off to the nearest institution to have my head examined and some – any – other interests drilled into it instead. Every weekend was spent poring over Saint and Greavsie, Grandstand and The Big Match; every Monday saw me fill my ‘What I Did at the Weekend’ school books with a detailed analysis of Spurs’ fortunes.

Italia ’90 featured prominent contributions from Spurs’ two brightest young things, as well as the now familiar anguish of a drawn-out defeat, stretched out in the most dramatic fashion seemingly just out of cruelty from those on high.

The emergence of Gazza, all trickery and entertainment hammered home the fact that the game is about glory, about doing things in style and with a flourish. When he sized up the Arsenal wall at Wembley, and Barry Davies wondered if he were going to have a crack, I flew off around the place in the sort of celebration that would be unfurled again when Lucas Moura struck in the 95th minute.

The FA Cup Final that followed provided the template of virtually our entire Champions League Campaign in 2019, as, initially, everything that possibly could have veered off the rails duly did so. Gazza crumpled to the turf; Pearce belted home the free-kick; Gazza was stretchered off; Lineker had one wrongly disallowed; and then missed a penalty. This cycle of dismay and setbacks was to prove a solid grounding for the following 20 years or so – and certainly has me well prepared for defeat in some cruel fashion in the CL Final – but once bitten forever smitten, and the glimmer of hope remained.

Step forward Paul Stewart, and the head of poor old Des Walker, and the FA Cup was ours. Little did I know that it would be the first of only 3 trophies in my living memory (until, who knows, Madrid?)

Right up there with the celebrations with my family as Mabbutt lifted the Cup were the celebrations at St Francis de Sales school – a venue presumably well-recognised by most of lilywhite persuasion – the following Monday.

3. The 1990s

One does not want to denigrate the honest efforts of those who went before, but it’s a jolly good job that our heroes achieved both glory and glorious failure in those earlier years, because supporting Spurs in the 90s was a fairly joyless experience, and one compounded by the fact that most in secondary school were Arsenal fans.

There were little flashes of joy – my first visit to the Lane; Klinsmann scoring and then spinning around to stare me in the eyes in a rather generous and touching striker-to-striker moment; discovering that Steve Sedgley lived around the corner and knocking on his door for an autograph; Ginola’s glorious slalom vs Barnsley; the 1999 Worthington – but this was an era in which the hope was doing an impeccable job of killing me.

4. The 2000s, Jol, Bale and ‘Arry

By the turn of the millennium I had had the good sense to start devoting my hours to booze and females, the former reliably assisting in the process of Spurs-supporting, the latter simply putting up with it (or not).

The prominent memory of my University years is turning on the radio for the classified results, having known we were three goals to the good at half-time, and in a millisecond registering a) disappointment that we had still only scored three at full-time, and b) confusion that the intonation of the classified results-reader was indicating that the home team had lost, which was most peculiar, because that could only mean that Man Utd had, in the second half alone, at White Hart Lane, scored the princely total of…

A League Cup Final defeat was thrown in for good measure, before Martin Jol – blessed be his name – strode in like a lumbering bear, and I was off to my first ever European night at the Lane, a second honeymoon if ever there were one.

The zenith of this was yet another glorious failure compounded by several early shots to our own feet – needing to overturn a first leg deficit against Sevilla we were two-down before those around me had even taken their seats – but this at least was where the tide began to turn.

UEFA/Europa nights became the norm; a scrawny left-back called Gareth Bale was making blunders that had me calling for his head; Modric and Berbatov were making grown men go misty-eyed around me; and when ‘Arry Redknapp joined, and kicked things off with a 4-4 draw at the Emirates, featuring a 40-yard Bentley lob and not one but two last-minute comeback goals, the All Action, No Plot blog was born.

And with each passing season, the name seemed apt if not exactly tripping off the tongue. Which other team, needing a final-day result, could lose half its members to food poisoning? Which other team could finally break its Top Four hoodoo, only to find that despised rivals who had finished sixth would conjure up a last-minute equaliser, followed by a penalty shoot-out win, to take the trophy and our CL spot?

Supporting Spurs meant signing up to a series of absurdities that were all perfectly acceptable within the legislation, but seemed unlikely, barely credible and always plain bonkers. The difference is that in this season’s Champions League campaign, those unlikely and bonkers moments have fallen in our favour. To date…

On the pitch we crept closer to glory, but inevitably fell short in ever more galling circumstances, culminating to date with a Semi-Final penalty shoot-out defeat this season. Off the pitch a slightly unlikely dream was lived as I penned a curious book on Spurs, and in the process spent various afternoons in conversation with that same Gary Mabbutt whose knee kick-started the whole thing. (And, of course, became best mates with Jan.)

5: Poch and the Champions League Final

So without sacrificing the glory glory entertainment, Our Glorious Leader has introduced consistency, and raised the bar. A few years ago, in the season in which Walker and Rose tore up the flanks, we were the country’s most entertaining team. Over the course of two seasons we amassed more points than any other team, without winning a trophy.

A variety of sticks were used to beat us, and one by one they have been confiscated with some stern words. After all, there was a time when we were the team that never beat the Top Four teams, or that never won away at Chelsea. We never won at Wembley apparently – shortly before we beat Real Madrid there.

And at the start of this 2018/19 season, with no signings, a squad wearied by the World Cup and no home of which to speak, the Champions League Final was the last thing on anyone’s minds. In fact when we made it to the Quarter-Finals, and then started the Semi-Final, the Champions League Final was still the last thing on this particular mind. Not until Lucas’ final flourish, the moment that, in common with every other lilywhite, I only have to close my eyes to see and hear, which is a rather nifty trick.

After approximately ten days of floating around the place with a permanent grin etched across the visage, it’s been approximately ten further days of excitement building, until these current levels, when I really do need a stiff drink and a lie down.

It does not end in Madrid of course – if the best part of four decades on this mortal coil has taught me anything it is that life tends to churn on fairly relentlessly – but from the 1987 FA Cup Final lost by an extra-time own goal, the all action no plot process has wound its way, via comeback after mind-boggling dramatic comeback, to the 2019 Champions League Final.

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Spurs 3-1 Real Madrid: Seven Lilywhite Observations

1. Bright Moments From Dele

Young Dele has been smothered in fuss for around two years without a pause for breath, so naturally the young fish is today being feted as the second coming, after one scrappy poke, a heavily deflected second and an open goal miss.

A curious specimen this chap, because his performances frequently feature errors strewn about the place like confetti, alongside the glimpses of match-winning élan. Dives, attempted nutmegs and a bizarre tendency to channel his inner Moussa Sissoko and overrun the ball have generally been in evidence this season, and a selection of the above again made themselves known in the opening minutes last night, prompting me to raise an eyebrow or two.

But lo, when the planets align the young imp becomes something of a force of nature. His timing of runs, slap bang into the meat of an opponent’s soft underbelly could not have been more effective if he were waving an axe and yelling “Ho!”. Whether as a supporting act to Kane (arriving those critical few moments later and when defenders are already preoccupied), or as a temporary central striker(when the leading man had gone snuffling away down the flanks) Dele got his numbers right yesterday.

It certainly helped that Real adopted the Shrug-And-Scatter art of defending, but our man had his green cross code down to a t, knowing almost instinctively when to stop and when to pelt it forward.

On top of which, he made a far better fist of life as a midfielder than he has done to date this season. As mentioned, the dribbles have rarely struck oil in 2017/18, but yesterday his twinkling little toes were deployed to cracking effect, notably in the build-up to the third goal.

2. The Other Side of Kane’s Game

So we can all take a deep breath and get used to another nine months or so of press hysteria about Dele leading us to World Cup glory, but in the meantime there was a slightly more subtle demonstration of things great and good from Harry Kane.

Not one of those days on which he rams home his ability to flick through the A-to-Z of goalscoring and score literally every type of goal invented, instead this was a game in which he beavered away for the cause, like one of those unsung heroes in a black and white war epic on a Sunday afternoon.

The harassment to win that early throw-in that led to our opener – and the presence of mind to keep the metronome clicking away by taking the aforementioned throw-in swiftly – were early indications that he would scrap away for everything, because you never quite know.

Then when haring away, to have the awareness and skill to pick out Eriksen with a pass weighted to perfection, again suggested that this was a man who knew when to stick, when to twist and when to do the honourable thing by his chums.

Moreover, I quite enjoyed the fact that when high balls were lobbed into his general vicinity, opposing defenders simply bounced off his ample frame, possession was retained and an air of brute-like superiority was established.

3. Trippier Bosses Things

It is a truth universally acknowledged that Our Glorious Leader likes to alternate his wing-backs pretty much every game, but I dashed well wish that Aurier would be tucked away at the back of the cupboard and forgotten about until the next spring clean. Not that I wish ill upon the chap, but whereas he has the letters L-I-A-B-I-L-I-T-Y stamped across the back of his shirt, Trippier busily does everything required of him by contract, then goes back and pointedly exceeds each one of his duties, as if curious to ascertain precisely how devastatingly effective one single right wing-back can be on a field with 21 others.

The result was that while memories of Aurier flying in feet first hovered in the air, Trippier got down to brass tacks and delivered an absolute masterclass in spying a downed opponent and applying his foot to said opponent’s neck. As solid as dutifully required when defending, Trippier delivered a tour de force going forward, which on a night of counter-attacking frolics was precisely what the doctor ordered.

The first time volleyed deliveries across the penalty area ought really to belong in a museum, and even though he had a bucket of luck tipped all over him in being adjudged onside for the opening goal, here at AANP Towers we were too busy drooling over the technique to care a hang. Fingers are firmly crossed that Pochettino finds a sneaky way to ensure that Aurier is employed against the small-fry, and Trippier gets the nod for every crunch game.

4. Eriksen Makes Hay

A couple of weeks ago I lamented, if that’s the word I want, that our magnificent Dane forgot to take his magnificence with him when he travelled to the Bernabeu, and delivered about as anaemic as a an earthworm having a particularly pallid time of things.

It was very much consigned to the annals yesterday, however, as the bizarre tactics of Real allowed Eriksen to have an absolute blast, like a teenager whose parents have vacated the premises for the weekend and allowed him to run wild.

Given that Modric had bested him at the Bernabeu, there was something particularly poetic – and downright hilarious – about seeing the Croat desperately try, and fail, to prevent Eriksen poking in our third. It was a goal that did as much credit to the Dane’s indefatigability as to his technique, those little legs going like the clappers to carry him just about the full length of the pitch at breakneck pace.

5. The Defence Just About Holds Firm

An air of mystery still surrounds the absence of Davinson Sanchez from proceedings at the weekend, the blighter having done little wrong in previous excursions, but normality was restored to her throne last night, and as it happens Davinson and chums as one made a pretty solid fist of things.

It would be rather glossing over things a tad too enthusiastically to suggest that the defence were in supreme control throughout, their 90 minutes unsullied by the weight of duty, because while the balance of play seemed to be firmly lilywhite, there were a number of close calls in front of – or indeed level with – Monsieur Hugo, which had the heart leaping out of the chest, beyond the throat and embedding itself within the mouth.

Nevertheless, by hook, crook or by one Real attacker slamming the ball against another but a yard from the goal-line, our heroes just about kept the visitors at bay, which in the final analysis was joly well deserved both ways.
The loss of Alderweireld will have to be classified as collateral damage, sustained within the great swathe of fixtures that currently envelops, but the international break might help to the various sinews and muscles to return to former glories.

Alderweireld’s unscheduled exit meant a nifty shuttling of Dier into the back three, and the young mass of muscle did a sterling job. The whole troupe did likwiese in fact, with Vertonghen picking a few moments to provide Ronaldo with a delicate welcome back to these shores, and Sanchez showing a little more guile on the ball than in recent weeks.

6. Winks Assisting Assists

Naturally enough, a celebratory AANP Towers would not be the same without a few splashes of the good stuff in honour of current flavour of the month, Harry Winks. Rather like a poor lamb diving headfirst into his GCSEs, it has been one gruelling test after another for Master Winks in recent weeks, and the engine just about ran out of juice in the second half.

The chap does seem fond of an errant pass or two, but by and large he fought the good fight, and it was marvellous to see that instinct for a useful forward pass bearing fruit, not once but twice. In setting up the first girl he pinged the ball wide to Trippier, when easier, less risky options abounded. Then for the third goal, it would be easy to overlook that from within his own area, rather than blast the thing into orbit, he picked out Dele, who skinned his man, fed Kane, and Eriksen was in.

Few folk care too much about the man who assists the assist, but five years on I still remember fondly that when we beat Milan at the San Siro, the man who set Aaron Lennon away on halfway, to assist Crouch, was one Luka Modric. Whisper it, but Winks may have something similar about him.

7. This Game’s Sissoko Moment

Naturally enough, a celebratory AANP Towers would not be the same without a few splashes of the good stuff to calm the nerves following the latest Sissoko farce. A couple of weeks ago it was his errant last-minute pass when we counter-attacked 4 vs 1. At the weekend it was his shot vertically into the air after De Gea fumbled.

Yesterday it was his wild air shot when the ball was gently rolled into his path, a napkin attached around his neck and gleaming cutlery placed in his hands. I realise that Winks did the same, but Winks then redeemed himself by dribbling through half the Real defence, as well as setting in motion two goals. Sissoko decidedly did not.

One can only assume that Sissoko plays like Pele in training, because there is little other reason for him to be so heavily involved in things.

Sissoko’s guff mattered not in the end, for this was right up there with the very best in our history. The upward trajectory continues, and players, and particularly the manager, deserve all the acclaim going spare.

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

Real Madrid 1-1 Spurs: Five Lilywhite Observations

1. The Eriksen-Modric Fantasy Clash

I don’t mind admitting that the heart skipped a lovestruck beat when I saw Messrs Modric and Eriksen line up in opposition in the centre of the Bernabeu. It was like one of those classic films in which an inspired casting director has called in a few favours and pulled a few strings, with the result that he has managed to obtain the services of two absolute giants of the silver screen, to peddle their muck alongside one another for the first time. Think Expendables 2 and you have the idea.

So there, in glorious technicolour, were Modric and Eriksen. Master and Apprentice if you will, of the control panel at N17. Creator Extraordinaire Past and C. E. Present. Even the dullest, most heartless observer would have salivated uncontrollably at the prospect.

Alas, what transpired was quite the mismatch. Modric, unsurprisingly, stuck to his part of the deal, and duly ran the show from first toot to last. All that we had known and loved on the hallowed turf of the Lane was blazing away again, from the man once voted Real’s Worst Ever Signing. The exquisite technique, vision and execution, all allied to an impressive degree of hither-and-thither scurrying. It was A-Game stuff, and our heroes had to be on their toes throughout to prevent the chap running riot (which, to their credit, they did with aplomb, but more on that later).

But alas, I said, and it’s worth repeating: alas. For Eriksen, who by any loose estimation has hit quite the heights already this season, was dreadfully off colour. The heir to the Moric mantle seemed to have attached left boot to right foot and vice versa, and possibly then tied the laces of both boots together for good measure. He barely struck a right note the whole evening. Dashed odd, and terrifically frustrating, because if ever we needed our String-Puller-In-Chief to earn the monthly envelope it was away to the European Champions.

He will have better days – in truth he can barely have worse – and his work-rate was as earnest as ever, but there could barely be fainter praise for the chap.

2. Harry Winks’ 60 Seconds Worth of Distance Run

Seasoned visitors to these 4 walls will know that the AANP cup overfloweth with good honest man-love for young Master Winks. That he is one of our own and lives the dream is certainly pleasing, and poetic and whatnot, but pleasing and poetic alone does not win football matches. But by heck what does win football matches is receiving the ball and instantly spinning the needle Northwards to see what is available, then ploughing forward via the best transport mode available, be it pass or dribble.

The chap is not faultless – his loss of possession on halfway resulted five seconds later in a one-on-one for one of the greatest goalscorers in history, not the sort of error of judgement one wants to make too readily.

But allowing for the fact that young Winks is mortal, and that to err will very much be an occasional part of his DNA, he held his own in the face of arguably the stiffest midfield test in world football today.

The assorted boxes ticked included “Body Strength to Protect the Thing”, “Defensive Awareness (Both Positioning and Tackling)” and, as mentioned above, a pleasingly anti-Jenas ability to prompt a forward move. Those doubting the young bean’s ability would be advised to soak up a replay of our goal, featuring Winks shrugging off a challenge and playing the short but effective forward pass which set the thing in motion down the right flank.

3. Aurier and Sissoko

A propos that right flank, quite the eventful evening for those on patrol. Aurier’s greatest hits in lilywhite now include an assist vs Real Madrid, a penalty conceded for a wild lunge, a red card for two wild lunges, and an absolute hatful of other wild lunges delivered at regular intervals, executed with groan-inducing wildness and as likely to succeed as the toss of a coin.

A rough diamond then, as a particularly kindly diplomat might put it. The cross for our goal was scrumptious, and after the initial 20-minute bedding-in period in which every member of our back-five had evidently been instructed to remain within spitting distance of our own penalty area upon pain of death, he gradually began to don his marauder’s hat and go marauding up the right with the best of them.

The link-up play with Sissoko certainly did have the occasional look of ‘Accident’ rather than ‘Design’, but effective is as effective does, and Aurier caused them problems.

That said, watching him perfect the needless art of the Wild Lunge did make me want to reach out and offer a consoling pat to the head of Kieran Trippier.

Elsewhere on the right, the broken clock that yesterday told the right time was Sissoko and his limb collection. The consensus is that the chap did a decent job, and he certainly contributed to the unlikely double-act with Aurier. However, I would hardly number myself amongst the converts. For every extravagant scorpion-kick control-on-the-run there was a wild swing and miss on the edge of his own area. It did the job, he played his part, so credit where due, but every passing day – and every errant pass – makes me yearn more for Dembele and Wanyama.

4. Lloris’ Disdain for Physics

To date this season Monsieur Lloris has been cultivating quite the eye-catching collection of monumental aberrations, but such big tent capers can be forgiven in an instant when one observes the frankly physics-defying stunts he pulls off in the name of the last line of defence.

As with the left-hand scoop vs Bournemouth at the weekend, his leggy block of Benzema’s header yesterday seemed to cause a rip in the very fabric of space-time. The thing just did not seem possible, and was worth toasting to the rafters every jot as much as a goal at t’other end.

The save from Ronaldo’s volley, while slightly more aligned to the laws of physics, was nevertheless similarly first-rate. The chap is a keeper, if you get my drift.

5. Pochettino’s Tactics

AANP has no bones about attributing the rightful name to a digging implement, and when our glorious leader erroneously gambled on Son at left wing-back vs Chelsea in the Cup last year, a bashing was duly administered which no doubt still makes the chap cower to this day.

Last night, the assorted absentees forced him into another tactical gamble, and a startling one it was too, with the teamsheet prompting around 18 different interpretations from seasoned onlookers of what shape and arrangement might transpire.

5-3-2 as it happened, in a pleasing throwback to AANP’s failed experiments on early 90s Championship Manager, but credit by the truckload to Pochettino for deciding upon it, and the lilywhite troupe for executing it.

Admittedly, the deep-defensive approach does induce palpitations by the bucketload amongst the observing throng, but by and large it worked. In the first half, after the early woodwork scare, Real struggled to get their paws into the meat of the thing, viz. our penalty area. Admittedly we in turn struggled to prevent the ball returning straight back at us, particularly at the start of the second half, but with Real looking vulnerable at the back, the “2” element of 5-3-2 proved a smart move, and we should have toddled off home with more than just the one goal.
Credit, on that cheery note, to Llorente, who, while no whippet, showed both strength and a delicate touch in his role as Robin to Kane’s Batman.

Other observations were that Son was surprisingly underused, and Danny Rose seems to have spent his entire rehabilitation period deprived of any grooming products, but in the absence of 4 of our first choice 11, a point away at the European Champions was a fantastic result. Qualification is all but guaranteed, and in the grand scheme of things, the development of this bunch continues apace. Marked progress from last year, the upward trajectory continues.

Palace – Spurs Preview: 8-Point Wishlist For Spurs This Season

What ho, and welcome to 2013/14. With our season now literally minutes away this seems as appropriate a juncture as any to push away the second helping of kippers, retire to the favoured reading chair, stuff a pipe and consider the (by no means exhaustive) AANP Towers Eight-Points Wishlist for the new season.

See Rose Bloom

Do you see what I did there? Do you get it? It’s a play on the lexical duplicity of the name… Anyway, we at AANP Towers have never been particularly enamoured of this particular chunkster, primarily because, one wonder-goal aside, he has generally resembled a Kabaddi player who has been tossed a pair of football boots and told to fit in. Previous appearances in lilywhite have seen him pound around the pitch constantly looking as if he is about to lose control of the ball, his balance and his very limbs, typically making skin-of-the-teeth interceptions by the force of accident and momentum rather than design.

Still, last year by all accounts he had a rollicking time of it at Sunderland, and while I found this dashed difficult to comprehend, it would be no bad thing if some vaguely robust competition were offered to the present incumbent, given that Benny is hardly the very paragon of defensive solidity.

Kaboul On Fire Once More

In truth he is neither poor nor old, but it nevertheless seems jolly rotten luck for the poor old blighter to have missed the entire season through no fault of his own. By a most curious quirk of nature however, the steaming behemoth of two seasons back seems to have been forgotten by just about everyone everywhere, with common discourse now marvelling at how lucky we were not to have sold Daws to QPR after all last season. Such garbled musings baffle me no end, for whole-hearted though he is Daws has failings aplenty. Kaboul is faster, stronger, has better technique and is generally the Six Million Dollar Man to Dawson’s mere mortal who got bashed up in the pilot episode. Whether instead of or alongside Daws, Kaboul should be immense this season – providing he stays fit.

Set pieces

I am not sure what diabolical dark arts are involved in this ‘Zonal Marking’ sorcery, but at AANP Towers we nervously drain our whisky tumblers and gasp for more every time the whistle blows around our area. There presumably are iterations of the Zonal Marking system that work absolutely tickety-boo, but already in pre-season there have been groans from all sides as our heroes have diligently stuck to their allocated zones, allowing cunning opponents to saunter unopposed into the gaps in-between, rending poor old Lloris (again, neither poor nor old) and his ear-piercing shriek of “Awaaaay” little-to-no chance.

There seems to be a fairly basic flaw of physics around the concept of allowing opponents a running leap, while our lot try to defend from standing starts, but while never again conceding a corner or free-kick in our own half would be one solution, a potentially simpler and more feasible approach would be to find a better way to defend these set-pieces.

Lennon’s final ball

Time, it would appear, waits for no man, and hot on the heels of the jettisoning of Hudd, the awkward realisation is beginning to dawn that neither is young Master Lennon the spring-chick he once was, and that the time for fulfilling his youthful potential has now begun to slip by. Where once he shaved go-faster lines into his eyebrows – an emblem of the carefree insouciance of youth if ever there were one – now the speedy imp is cultivating a hirsute visage, a more traditional badge of advanced years. Where once it was easy enough to assume that Lennon would eventually learn to deliver his final ball once he matured, the uncomfortable truth is that the bounder simply has not mastered that particular art, despite season after season in which that particular failing slapped him repeatedly in the face with a wet fish. Skinning the opposing full-back is manageable enough, but whether his cross makes it to the danger-zone seems to be largely a matter of chance. Get that final ball right and he will be a world-beater – as we have all been murmuring for years.

Hang on to Bale

He might have his uses, and as the laughing-stock down the road have illustrated all summer, oodles of cash is no substitute for having a chap actually kitted up and scuttling around on the greenery.

The Delivery of Defence-Splitting Passes Around the Edge of the Area

No arguing with the spine of our team, which now consists entirely of genetically-engineered monster-beasts, but here at AANP Towers a drum we’ve been banging throughout the ages has been around the merits of that most cherished of footballing gifts, the Defence-Splitting Pass Around the Edge of the Area. Often – though not necessarily – delivered via the medium of diagonality, ‘tis the sort of tool that can unlock any defence, and prove particularly useful against those infernal weaker teams who arrive at the Lane to set up camp on the edge of the area. Behind Soldado our creative trio will be formed of three from Lennon, Dembele, Sigurdsson, Holtby, Townsend or Chadli – each of whom are blessed in their own particular way, but none of whom are necessarily cut of the Mata/David Silva cloth. While the sideways-and-sideways-again approach does reflect admirable patience on the part of the players, all too often it ends with a cross from wide or reversion to the Bale gambit. The occasional, devastatingly cunning defence-splitter would most certainly not go amiss.

Tom Carroll to Establish Himself

Sackcloth and ashes are being worn, and a flag and flagpole have been hastily created in order that aforementioned flag can be flown at half-mast –all in doleful commemoration of the passing of Hudd and his dreamy brand of passing. Discreetly glossing over the subjects of his weight, immobility and speed (or lack thereof) the AANP bottom lip has positively quivered at the thought of that impeccable technique no longer being the lawful property of THFC. However, a pint-sized phoenix might yet rise from the Huddlestone flames, for in his brief cameos young Tom Carroll has done enough to suggest that he has the vision and technique when pinging a pass that elevates him above the mere mortals of the Premiership. He is highly unlikely to dislodge the man-machines of Paulinho, Sandro and Dembele, but with Cup games of various sorts coming out of the goddam walls in the coming weeks this might yet prove to be Carroll’s season-long moment.

Hit The Ground Running

The start of last season appeared to take all concerned in N17 somewhat by surprise, featuring as it did a renegade Modric and unwanted VDV, and a paltry point was gleaned from the opening three fixtures (I think) as a result, as our heroes a little too gradually awoke from their summer slumbers. Alas, that wretched start had cost us dear come mid-May, when we missed out on the Top Four by a single point. It may not be rocket-science, but a marginally more sprightly start this time round could make a world of difference later on in proceedings. Player-for-player newly-promoted Palace represents the sort of three points we need to wrap up to make the Top Four, so opportunity rather bangs on the door today for a fast start to 2013/14.

Spurs 1-0 Sunderland: Dash It All

A rummy thing, football. Up diddly up, down diddly down, whoops poop twiddly dee, to quote one particularly sagacious soul – after which Man Utd win the whole dashed thing and our lot get edged out by that other lot. And that, it appears, is how football works. But when 38 games end with us essentially taking pride of place at the head of a 16-strong cohort of no-man’s-land stragglers, I am rather inclined to think ‘Dash it all, what’s the point?’

The Game Itself

Still, a game of football was there to be win, and win it we did, which I suppose ticks a box somewhere, albeit one of the more pointless boxes in football history. The urgency shown from the off was commendable enough, a clean sheet rather furtively sneaked its way into the stadium, we jolly well peppered the Sunderland goal throughout – oh that it counted a jot.

The mystery surrounding penalties at White Hart Lane remains as mind-boggling as ever. We can now add ‘Ill-Disguised Rugby Tackle Complete With Unsubtle Thump In Back’ to the list of offences, already including relatively uninteresting items such as ‘Handball’ and ‘Blatant Trip On Galloping Forward’, for which Spurs will most definitely not be awarded a penalty, and for which Bale will probably be cautioned.

On a general note I remain a little miffed at the use of just one genuine striker plus Dempsey, while Defoe picks his nose on the bench, in one-sided must-win games such as this. Similarly, the selection of two holding midfielders seems a little daft once the match pattern is established – although in fairness Parker remains convinced that he is the man to scythe open an opposing defence with one surging run after another, and AVB did eventually introduce Dembele into a fairly progressive role. While the patience shown by our heroes was probably to be lauded, and they did not simply resort to the aimless pumping of long aerial balls, someone somewhere might want to address our lack of lock-pickery, given that it was just about 90 minutes before said lock was unpicked (and even then ‘twas not done by any particular act of subtle wizardry and slick passing interchanges but rather by a sledgehammer swung by Bale).

An End-of-Season Thought On The Main Man

There was nothing particularly new about events on Sunday, but I hope you don’t mind awfully if I bang a favourite drum one last time, for while there is quite astonishing match-winning goodness in those size nines of his, Bale probably has room for improvement in terms of being the man to dictate games. Last season all things good tended to begin with Modric, and often travelled via VDV; whereas now Bale can be fairly peripheral for long periods (admittedly before then slapping the ball in from 20+ yards). The next step for him might be to evolve to match-bosser. Since he clearly is not doing enough for us already.

Further reflections on the season will follow in due course, and the more masochistic among us have already had hours of fun poring over the season’s fixtures to pinpoint the exact moment at which we threw it all away (Everton away? Fulham at home? Those blasted first three fixtures of the season?), but in terms of Sunday’s affair it was all rather hollow. And that’s it. Consummatum est, and in such disappointing manner that the whole bally thing might as well not have taken place. Dash it all.

Maribor 1-1 Spurs: The Half-Hearted Amble to Glory Continueth

Still not really clicking, which is just about grumpily bearable against the European champions, but a darned sight more irritating against Slovenia’s finest. The lack of cutting edge in attack had me thumping my head repeatedly against the nearest wall from around midway through the first half. Injury to Adebayor was a shame, for this game had ‘Two-Man Attack’ scrawled across it in the sort of chunky font normally reserved for unintelligible graffiti. Elsewhere a couple of campaigns were given more scarcely-needed impetus, as the ‘Without-Bale-And-Dembele-We’re-Worryingly-Impotent’ brigade were given a second boost within a week, while the ‘VDV-And-Modders-For-Sigurdsson-And-Dempsey-Is-A-Slightly-Rubbish-Trade-Off-When-You-Think-About-It’ movement, which first stirred into life in August, is gaining credibility by the game.

‘Twas a night on which, given our lack of personnel to play two up front, our deeper midfielders Hudd and Sandro might have shown more attacking urgency. Lennon too just seemed too dashed nice as he went about his business, seemingly reluctant to embarrass his hosts by tearing them to pieces and instead settling for that pause-and-limply-pass-infield routine that is inevitably met with sighs of relief all round amongst the opponents.

here were a few moments – the lad Falque shook things up a tad on his introduction, and young Masters Caulker and Naughton put in decent performances, but ‘tis rather depressing to clutch at such straws after a bland draw against this lot. Having banged on about what a glitzy, glam competition this Europa thing is, AVB needs to inject some ingenuity and ruthlessness into the training ground protein shakes, and jolly well destroy this lot when they visit the Lane for the return fixture.

Spurs – West Brom Preview: An Interruption of Transfer Scheming

At times this week AANP has been reminded of those halcyon days studying for a Philosophy degree through the medium of countless hours (days? weeks?) on Football Manager, when occasionally the inconvenience of a match would interrupt the hours (days? weeks?) spent on the fine art of transfer dealing. Thus have events in the real world transpired, for the respective sagas of Modders, Daws, Hudd, Bassong, Adebayor, VDV, Defoe, Willian, Leandro and various others must now be interrupted for 90-odd minutes, during which our will heroes struggle to break down a resolute nine-man West Brom defence before being suckered by a scrappy poke from a set-piece.A second debut awaits for Adebayor, and although AVB’s nose did appear to grow as he insisted in yesterday’s press conference that Defoe remains part of his plans, our glorious leader nevertheless hinted that he might one day play Defoe behind Adebayor. This would seem to turn his 4-2-3-1 into a straightforward 4-2-4, but let’s not worry about the minutiae for now.

One of the failings of the ‘Arry era was the inability to break down nine-man defensive units. While AVB’s glossy, new, up-tempo formation had some joy against a an attack-minded Newcastle on their own turf, it remains to be seen how penetrative it will be against a band of merry man content to play from first minute to last for a nil-nil. Given the context, a scrappy, single-goal home win would be fairly gratefully received in this quarter.

Hudd, Dawson & Adebayor – AANP Weeps, Shrugs & Rejoices

Hudd to StokeWEEP! Weep – and while you’re at it wail and gnash your teeth – for Hudd is a lilywhite no more! Admittedly the veracity of the above does depend on a technicality, as the blighter has departed only on loan for now, but apparently AVB deems him too slow for this post-Corluka era.

Whether or not he returns seems fairly questionable, for while the loaning of younglings is generally geared towards ripening them for First XI action, loans for more established 20-somethings are typically more akin to a commercial on the tellybox – designed in no uncertain terms to entice viewers to part with tuppence ha’penny.

So weep then, for possibly the silkiest stroker of a leather sphere witnessed on N17 turf since Hoddle has now seemingly munched on his last doughnut from the White Hart Lane canteen. Admittedly Moutinho may still be on the radar, but otherwise it seems jolly uncanny that AVB cannot find room for Hudd within a 3-man central midfield, particularly with Modric still persona non grata, Scott Parker injured and Jermaine blinking Jenas hovering in the background with evil grin on visage and custom-made sideways-and-backwards-passing boots slung over shoulder. Thus, however, does our esteemed leader roll. AVB likes his troops to scuttle around the ankles of opponents like a troupe of particularly sprightly monkeys caught up in the excitement of the mating season, and alas, such a description will never, ever befit Master Huddlestone.

To add to the pain of it all, the marriage of a technician extraordinaire such as Hudd, with an elbows and long-ball outfit like Stoke, seems the very paradigm of incongruity. Should he be travelling to the Britannia in the capacity of Champagne Football Evangelist one can only hope he fares better than our distant cousins who first attempted that preaching lark. Would be a dashed shame if he were mauled to death by lions.

Daws to QPR 

Big and brave and inspiring though he regularly is, our heroes are not peddling a production of Henry V  so there is a limited need for Dawson’s qualities. In particular, his penchant for roaring at the Paxton end and sticking his head where boots swing fails to mask the fact that in the act of Paxton-roaring and head-sticking he has wandered out of position, about-turned with the nimbleness of an embarrassed elephant and flicked his switch to Clumsy-Last-Ditch-Challenge mode – and at 28 the problem was hardly about to remedy itself. In Kaboul, Gallas and (admittedly the little I have seen of) Vertonghen we have three centre-backs who are better, or at least his equal, while Caulker is developing well and is young enough to improve.

A fine servant to the cause, and the goal vs Chelski circa 2006 remains one of my favourite lilywhite memories of recent years, but on this one AANP concurs with AVB, and a mooted sum of £9.5 million would be fairly health business.

Adebayor to the Lane

Glory be. It had got to the stage where Steven Fletcher was being mentioned in dispatches, so to have dotted t’s and crossed i’s on this is a blessed relief.

For added chortle-value it appears that in order to rid themselves of him, Man City have hit upon the novel idea of paying him the sizeable lump of wage that we poor and needy White Hart Laners could not afford. While it may furrow the brow of one J. Defoe Esquire, at £5 million this is a reason to doff the cap in the general direction of Master Levy.

Newcastle-Spurs Preview

We will have to play them all twice each anyway, but the Dutch women’s hockey team might have been a preferable opener, and not just because they are a darned sight easier on the eye than that Geordie mob. While ‘tis difficult to know whether Newcastle will function with the same aplomb as last year, this is a testing old to-do with which to begin proceedings.

Inevitably, we will take to the battlefield still a work in progress, with young Harry Kane nervously clearing his throat in the absence of a you-know-what to lead the line. Serendipitously enough young Master Defoe has shown in national colours that he can still merrily belt the orb netwards, and this will have to suffice. The midfield does at least look well stocked, despite the recalcitrant Modders wandering the reserve training ground in solitude, and Messrs Vertonghen and Kaboul appear to be rather more than just amply-framed hat-racks guarding the lilywhite goal.

Grounds for cautious optimism, but in truth AANP has barely an inkling of what to expect. Away we go.

Spurs’ Summer Doings Viewed From A Beady AANP Eye

What ho! That all happened in rather a flash of Euro gubbins and fuzzy Olympic bonhomie, no? For those still drawing breath at the madness of it all I advise a jolly swift inhalation, for that clattering of hooves without is Season 2012/13, entering stage right at a gallop.Ave atque vale 

Changes elsewhere as well, if the rumours are to be believed. A new kit has been launched, to a collective shrug across the land from those who only ever really cared about the Umbro ’91 effort. Truth be told I can barely muster the enthusiasm to comment on the switch to white shorts, for they are welcome to play in bin-liners if it helps them outscore all and sundry.

More interestingly, in a cunning bid to bring to the dressing room that sultry female physio from Chelski, Daniel Levy elbowed ‘Arry down the High Road and into the sunset, replacing him with the alarmingly young acronym AVB. Few at AANP Towers sniff at ‘Arry’s achievements at the Lane, but a suspicious eyebrow was raised at his shimmying and hip-swinging over the England job, as well as the Pontius Pilate-esque washing of hands at our tired limp along the final furlongs of last season. While there is a degree of apprehension around the appointment of the new chap it seems only right to bid him welcome and let him crack on with life, and as such he has an AANP hand placed quite firmly underneath his posterior for support.

Formation 

Central midfield ought to be a forte, as between Parker, Sandro, Livermore, Hudd, Sigurdsson and VDV we seem fairly well-stocked in ball-caressing possession hogs, and the back four are sprightly enough to adapt to AVB’s high defensive line. Indeed, the prospect of a Kaboul-Vertonghen pairing, with Daws and Caulker (plus Gallas, if retained) feverishly twiddling thumbs in anticipation from the bench, helps to assuage the pain of Ledleylessness.

Erm… a centre-forward? 

Other personnel 

Out the exit door marches Master Pienaar, upon whom we have somehow made a profit. Elsewhere, Ms AANP has hurtled up the list of AANP’s Favourite Croats, by virtue of the rather rummy conduct of Modders (now edging perilously close to a stern talking-to from AANP), as well as the exits of his turbo-charged compatriots Kranjcar and Corluka. Dovi?enja chaps. One suspects that fond farewells may also be sobbed by Gomes, Bentley, Gallas, Giovani and, if the footballing gods are feeling particularly benevolent, The Lord of All Things Sideways and Backwards.

Further signings will presumably be signed, and mercifully the injury-list is currently limited to Parker, but nevertheless it appears that once again our heroes will trundle out for the first act a few 80s action heroes short of a Hollywood blockbuster. So be it. The time for daring and doing approacheth.

 

 

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