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Spurs match reports

Man City 2-3 Spurs: Six Tottenham Talking Points

1. Kulusevski

I probably ought to do the square thing here, and shove in one of those little pre-emptive speeches before I hit the ripe stuff, because although he’s only been hovering about the place five minutes I’ve not wasted an opportunity to stick the knife into poor old Dejan Kulusevski during his Tottenham career to date.

I suppose it shows how much I know, but those very early impressions did not have me clearing some floor-space to dance little jigs of delight. A solid-looking chap, for sure, but it struck me that his muscle and sinews did little to disguise a first touch that contained too much meat when finesse was required. Add to that his single trick, repeated far too often (cutting in on his left) and the AANP verdict was decidedly middling.

Fast forward to around 19.30 GMT on Saturday night however, and such was the change in impression made upon me that I was strongly considering naming my first-born after the chap.

In the first place Kulusevski drew the short-straw on the tactical front. Man City, being of sound mind, naturally took one look at our lot and made it a priority to spend the entire match targeting Emerson Royal and his surrounding landscape. Our Glorious Leader therefore made the eminently sensible call to parachute in some permanent support for Emerson – with the net result was that poor old Kulusevski had to balance life as principal supporting actor every time Sonny and Kane combined with the additional demands of being a full-time auxiliary right-back alongside Emerson.

A testing agenda at the best of times, this particular trial had a few additional bobbish notes thrown in for good measure. For a start, our man was up against the most testing opposition going. Sterling and Gundogan didn’t stop eyeing him throughout for any false moves; while on the other hand the nearest ally in attendance was Emerson, who with the greatest will in the world does tend rather to flit in and out of things when it comes to his defensive duties.

And yet Kulusevski took to the challenge like an absolute trooper. In the defensive quarter, diligence seemed to be the buzzword. Actually, in the D. Q. there were a heck of a lot of buzzwords – “discipline”, “concentration”, “fitness” and so on, and one probably need not grapple with the specifics of the most appropriate word to get the gist: here was a fellow happy to put in a shift.

Surveying the scene in the aftermath, one would probably remark that for all Man City’s beavering down that flank, their success in the neighbourhood was limited. One certainly does not have to cast the mind back too far to recall occasions when our right side was a door flung wide open to welcome in all-comers, but on Saturday night efforts were made from start to finish to impose some sort of order upon the area, and Kulusevski’s sweaty paw-prints were all over it.


But of course the joy of Kulusevski’s performance was that he managed to be two people at once. The dependable workhouse routine having been executed admirably in the defensive third, when we ventured forward he was equally as willing to infest the more exciting areas of the paddock. And if in previous weeks I have ground a disapproving jaw or two, on Saturday night the chap completed a pretty swift redemption.

For a start, his goal was taken with casual air of a man peeling a particularly accommodating banana. This was all the more impressive given that the serene route of an open goal, which Sonny had no doubt envisaged when playing his square pass, had morphed into one of considerably greater challenge by the time the ball actually reached Kulusevski – not least because a City sort had galloped back and stationed himself rather pointedly in the face of our newest hero. It was therefore to Kulusevski’s infinite credit that he remained thoroughly unfazed, even having the presence of mind to nutmeg the City bod.

And at the risk of reading a darned sight too much into some of life’s trivialities, I did also detect on the umpteenth viewing that Kulusevski’s reaction to scoring was in similarly casual vein, comprising little more than a shrug, a yawn and a rather stony-faced expression of boredom whilst being mobbed by chums, as if to suggest that this was the sort of thing he did to pass the time.

On top of which, he then delivered just about our first successful right-wing cross of the season, in creating the winner (and again celebrated by turning back and dolefully walking towards halfway, the strange fellow).

Admittedly the City lad tasked with preventing his cross seemed to lose all interest in the sport and simply nodded him through, but it was still a peach of a cross. A different kettle of fish from Lucas for sure, but in games such as these in which a we require someone with eyes in the back of his head as well as the more traditional arrangement, young Master K could fit the bill.

2. The Defensive Set-Up: Dier

Post-match, there was a pretty sombre air in the Sky Sports studio as the assembled brains moaned about how City’s possession merited more – but I thought this overlooked the more telling stat that our lot piped up with more Shots On Target than their lot. Actually, the most telling stat was in the ‘Goals’ column, but you get the point – for all their possession, City couldn’t actually edge near enough our net to really spit on their hands and get cracking.

Our Glorious Leader obviously takes credit here, for opting for a back-five-plus-Kulusevski approach that ought to be enshrined in a museum as a model of watertightness. Impressively, all six of them seemed to function as one, shuffling north, east, south and west as if bound by shackles across the waist. And here I thought much credit went to the returning Eric Dier.

As has been often remarked around these parts, set Dier off in a foot-race, or tell him to turn around and not be out-sprinted by a forward, and trouble isn’t far off. But in these backs-to-the-walls operations, in which no pace is required and deep defending is the order of the day, the chap pretty much shoots a knowing wink and spends ninety minutes directing operations, emerging at the other end in a deuce of a sweat but triumphant nevertheless.

And so it panned out here. If City’s goals had emanated from the sort of dashing routines demonstrated by our lot, I might have chewed a nervous lip and marked Dier as one for questioning in the aftermath.

But City’s goals were nothing of the sort. The first was a cross equal parts harmless and hopeful, which Lloris treated with the sort of idea that there are times in a goalkeeper’s life when the last thing one should do is catch the bally thing; and the second was one of those penalties which can only be avoided by those blessed with detachable arms. In short, neither City goal came about because of any flaw in the performance of the back-five six.

3. The Defensive Set-Up: Romero

And even more impressive than Dier in the midst of all this gallant security was Senor Romero. Be it blocking, shadowing, tackling or whatever other noble task required, Romero seemed either to come with pre-loaded expertise, or to learn pretty dashed quickly on the job.

When one thinks back to the wild panic with which Davinson Sanchez has treated every involvement with the ball in recent weeks, one’s gaze towards Romero only becomes more admiring. I’m not entirely sure how rapidly he shifts from A to B, but as with Dier, parking up within a back-three and marshalling visitors with an air of authority is the sort of task-list that brings out the best in the man.

On top of which, the young nib is incredibly adept with ball at feet too. In general, upon receipt of the thing near-ish his own goal he resists the urge traditionally embedded into Spurs defenders to view it with horror and stumble over their own feet as all manner of potentially horrific consequences terrorise them.

Instead, Romero treats matters with appropriate sentiment. Set a striker upon him and he’ll crunch the fellow; but simply roll a football to his feet and he’ll control the thing, look around and pick his pass. Sometimes it will be square and harmless, which is as much as one would expect from a centre-back. But the beauty of Romero in possession is that as often as not, he’ll skip the ‘Harmless’ level and plunge straight into ‘Handily Taking Out Several Opponents’.

Re-watch the third goal and you’ll see him twice receive the ball on halfway, and twice sneer at those advocating that the 95th minute away to the champions dictates a safe sideways nudge. Instead, on both occasions he transferred matters 10 yards north, very much with the air of a man keen to turn his present bounty into even greater future riches, and on the second occasion Bentancur – a fellow who, while occasionally taken by surprise by the rigour of things, nevertheless displayed a dreamy touch throughout – spun forward to Kulusevski the sort of glorious, defence-splitting pass of which Winks, for example, would not dream.

4. Sessegnon

This being AANP Towers I obviously cannot let pass our finest display of the season without grumpily dragging into the office at least one of our number for a stern eye and verbal lashing, and on this occasion it’s young Sessegnon.

Mitigating circumstances abound, of course. In recent history the young pill has struggled to make it to the half-hour mark without some calamity striking him. It is therefore unsurprising that when battle commences he does not stride about the place with the confident vim of a man who knows his worth. The lad’s confidence has been hung, drawn, quartered, pelted with rotten fruit and hacked at a bit with an axe for good measure. One sympathises.

Nevertheless, seeing him yet again interact with the football as if it were trying to attack him was a bit thick. I presume that in his lighter moments, away from the noise of the crowd and glare of the cameras, young Sessegnon demonstrates an ability to move from place to place as well as the best of them. No doubt he’s mastered the art of moving one leg, and then the other, and then the first leg again and so on. Heavens, he probably can do all of the above while nurdling a ball along the ground too.

But stick him on the pitch and all that training and muscle memory rather cruelly deserts him, and he seems instead utterly incapable of getting the machinery working. His every touch seemed to bring about a U-turn in the narrative, as possession switched from lilywhite to light blue.

Moreover, one got the impression that his was a career in which he had somehow escaped ever having to compete against an opponent, such was his shock and inability to deal with the buffeting of his fellow man. To say that he was easily muscled off the ball would be to understate things.

Nevertheless, Sessegnon persisted, and deserves credit for sticking to the plan. Defensively he held his position, and given that he had the likes of Foden and De Bruyne lurking in his postcode he did a solid job of at least standing them up and forcing them to look elsewhere.

Moreover, just about the only moment I can remember him retaining possession was in his contribution to the second goal. No particular bells and whistles about it, but he was there and reeled off his lines correctly (in feeding Son), so I’m happy to slather praise upon him for it. Unlike certain others in lilywhite, I remain convinced that he is one who might yet rediscover the glories of his previous lives and prosper.

5. Kane

Naturally one can hardly skirt over proceedings without giving Kane some of the old oil.

The AANP heart, being formed primarily of ice and stone, does little in the way of the forgive-forget routine, so I remain dubious of the fellow’s broader motives – but by golly he brought his A-game on Saturday night.

Those who know me best will know that few things make the AANP heart flutter quite like a well-weighted pass inside a full-back, and the specimen produced by Kane in the build-up to the opener deserves its own special gong at whatever might be the next awards ceremony going.

The vision, direction and weight of the thing was absolutely as ripe as they come. When the grandchildren come clustering around decades hence, and ask for the highlights of my innings, the witnessing of that Kane pass will be the headline.

Nor was it an isolated incident. Kane’s vision and execution throughout oozed class from every pore. There are times when his obsession with midfielding rather grates; but when he starts high, drops 5-10 yards, receives the ball on the half-turn and fizzes a pass onto a postage stamp, one cannot help but cast an admiring eye.

Handily, the fellow also chipped in with a couple of goals. Occurring as they did, almost as afterthoughts, rather hammered home the fact that he was the hub of creativity rather than simply the chap in fancy garb who applies the finishing touch. Nevertheless, both were well taken, his second goal in particular a decent exhibition of the virtues of barrel-chested upper-body strength.

6. Our Goals and the Counter-Attack Myth

A final musing is on the nature of our goals.

It is naturally tempting to suggest that this was opportunistic stuff. The well-rehearsed narrative would have it that our heroes defended for dear life, and then nicked the ball and raced off to score.

The truth makes for a more interesting narrative, at least for those who like to don the spectacles and get a handle on the fine print.

Our first goal came from playing out from a goal-kick; our second from playing out from a goal-kick; Kane’s miss came from playing out from a goal-kick but with the added drama of losing and then regaining possession inside our own half; and the third was the happy ending to a minute-long story of our patient possession. Of nicking-and-countering there was not a whiff. (Well, perhaps a whiff about the Kane miss, when we lost and then regained possession – but not really countering in the classical sense of their entire team camped high up around our area.)

In truth, the telling element of all this is not so much around anything big and clever from our lot, as the rather fat-headed choice from City to station their defenders high up the pitch, leaving vast expanses for Kane’s passing and midfield runners to exploit. Nevertheless, once in possession our heroes knew the drill each time, and there was something of the well-rehearsed about the way in which the ball was swiftly transferred from one protagonist to another. No standing on ceremony here; our lot were quick and punchy.

As mentioned above, even in the third goal, when patient possession was the order of the day, the sudden injection of pace came from a first-time pass from Bentancur, out to Kulusevski on the right. Precious few teams will defend as high, allowing the tactic of Kane-passes-for-midfield-runners to thrive; but the progressive passing from Romero, and first-time pass from Bentancur to set up our third, gave a glimpse of where our creative sparks might lie for future bouts.

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Spurs match reports

Spurs 1 – 0 Man City: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Tanganga

There were a few ripe efforts out there today, with lungs being busted left, right and centre by those in lilywhite, but if J. Tanganga were to be presented with the gong for Standout Chappie De Jour, I suspect that any, few dissenting murmurs would be drowned out by pretty rapturous applause.

The key to this one seemed to be not only to stack up the young bean’s numbers (tackles won, crosses blocked, displays of upper-body strength executed and so forth – by each of which metric I suspect he delivered chart-topping stuff); but also to take into account the identities of those against whom he was pitting his wits.

I suspect even the most confident and capable amongst us might baulk a bit if turning up to the office and being informed by The Man that the day’s duties involved going toe-to-toe against first Raheem Sterling, and then Jack Grealish, and then quite possibly also both of them at once. And that baulking might have had an encore when informed, on enquiring as to the levels of assistance available for the gig, that help would primarily be delivered in the form of Davinson Sanchez, a chap whose most memorable contribution against these opponents involved being outfoxed to such an extent that he was left prostrate and face-down in the turf.

(Although in the interest of fairness let The Book of Such Things show that Sanchez put in a jolly impressive shift, both at his official sentry post in the centre, and when shuttling across to add his tuppence worth to the anti-Sterling/Grealish campaign.)

But to return to Tanganga. His delivery of defensive duties was not necessarily flawless, involving as it did a liberal sprinkling of manoeuvres deemed illegal by those who oversee such things. However, the fouls that were conceded in a strange way seemed to contribute to the sense that here was a fellow not about to shirk his duties. Quite the opposite in fact, for they were fouls that stemmed from full cylinders of enthusiasm and strength, rather than desperation or inadequacy.

From opening pips to his late withdrawal, Tanganga harassed and bustled away at his more illustrious foes, at least matching them and typically besting them; and even when they did wriggle free, one sensed that they were unlikely to look back upon their engagements with our man with any particular fondness.

All the more pleasing given that the last time he was sighted on official duty it was in the sorry state of being stretchered out of the arena, with his leg in a brace and an expression that told of one whizzing through various of the seven stages of grief.

2. Lucas

If there were to be any arguments against the crowning of Tanganga as today’s standout, one imagines that the principal case would be made in favour of Lucas Moura.

Few amongst us have ever failed to recognise that Lucas has been generously blessed by Mother Nature with a capacity to get his head down and mazily weave his way through oncoming traffic. The challenge seems to have been in harnessing that ability to generate optimal results for both the individual and the team. In short, I suppose, all too often, those mazy dribbles have tended to fizzle out into possession squandered and a tumble to terra firma.

Today however, as seemingly in pre-season, the stationing of Lucas as a trusted member of a swift attacking triumvirate, alongside the similarly fleet-footed Son and Bergwijn, seemed to bring out the best in the chap.

Neatly brushing under the carpet, to be dissected another day, the question of how one H. Kane Esquire would fit into a team whose main attacking thrust is built upon pace, it was a most pleasing surprise to witness Lucas delivering that of which we have known him capable, and for which we have yearned, pretty much since the day he arrived on the N17 doorstep.

Nor was his performance was solely one of direct runs at rather panicked defenders. His twinkling toes were also put to good use in winning possession, winning fouls and clipping lay-offs to nearby chums. Lucas was quite happy to do the hard work as required, as well as enjoying the more glamorous side of the game allowed by charging over halfway in a three-on-three.

As a side note, this dedicated, pace-based attacking system, bringing the best out of certainly Lucas and Bergwijn, did make me wonder whether the dearly-departed Lamela might have had a role to play in Nuno’s brave new world; but that particular king is dead, and here, presumably is where we wish long life to the newest king, Bryan Gil.

3. Skipp

This particular book having closed with a happy ending, all is now, naturally enough, sweetness and light, but in the early knockings AANP was observing proceedings with the customary pained grimace and unhealthily heightened pulse, and was paying particular attention to one of our number.

Much of the summer weeks at AANP Towers have been spent in robust and at times pretty fruity dialogue with others of lilywhite persuasion, specifically debating the merits or otherwise of young Master Skipp. The thrust of these particular back-and-forths has generally been that while others have championed playing the young nib, I thought it best to give him another season at Norwich (where by all accounts he was the absolute toast of the town last time out).

The AANP rationale here, was that while he had indubitably proved to all observers that he was a stripling who could excel in the Championship, I was far from convinced that similar glory awaited in the top flight, and therefore though that we might as well gauge his suitability for Premier League life by watching how he got on once again at Norwich. This would have both the benefit of testing his ability whilst also avoiding any risk that the illustrious Spurs midfield would suffer, were he to be found out of his depth.

As it happened, Our latest Glorious Leader, was evidently convinced of Skipp’s ability, and into the starting eleven he duly rumbled.

The opening thrusts did not actually bode terrifically well. Within the first five minutes Skipp had been caught in possession and also conceded a free-kick in a pretty dangerous spot, due to what appeared to be the general failing of not being quite at the races.

Thereafter however, and to his credit, if he put many feet wrong he disguised it well, because few in lilywhite better advertised the general theme of the day, of getting stuck right into the meat of things.

Pre-season has confirmed that Skipp has a handy pass or two in his locker, for lighter occasions; but today, understandably enough given the vaunted opposition, his mantra when in possession seemed to be “Safety first”, and it was a sound decision.

More impressive and eye-catching today was the earnest lad’s willingness to launch into any tackle with heart, soul and just about all his body-weight. If there were an opportunity to challenge a City man for the ball, Skipp did not hold back on the gusto, and while City’s undoubted quality in final third ball-pinging can often be difficult to contain, he was evidently damned if he were going to let any of their number simply skip through the centre.

Watching Skipp charge into an opponent, pick himself up and charge into the next opponent also prompted the exciting notion that against some of the lesser teams we face, there might be scope for him to sit back, manning the gates as it were, and allow one P-E Hojbjerg to head off further up the field, as he did to surprisingly good effect for Denmark during the Euros.

4. General Approach

Tet for all the individual honours, perhaps what was most pleasing was the general mentality of those in lilywhite (and, indeed, green). This was no smash and grab victory in the style of certain managers of our history, the sort that would feature all eleven camped in and around our own area attempting to snatch a goal and then repel a siege for eighty-plus minutes.

While naturally pretty circumspect, after the testing opening quarter hour and particularly in the second half our lot looked to attack where possible, notably avoiding the option of sitting back to defend the lead once established.

The mentality appeared to be to fight for the ball, by pressing opponents and approaching tackles with the philosophy that nothing less than full-blooded would suffice. Indeed, when the dust settles, that spirit of determination to win the ball in fifty-fifty challenges might be what lingers longest in the memory, all the more so for being frankly the polar opposite of what we’ve come to expect of our lot.

Credit here should go to Our Glorious Leader, for the fitness levels displayed were impressive. We may have benefitted from various cast members having a summer free from international responsibilities, and I also wonder if the choice of Woolwich as our final pre-season opponents was of particular benefit, in sharpening a few reactions.

On top of all of which, as pointed out by my Spurs-supporting chum Dave, the general philosophy of tempting fate by trying to pass out from the back, when woefully ill-equipped to do so, has seemingly been replaced by the infinitely wiser approach of shifting the ball to the quicker players and letting them make merry.

There will no doubt be tougher days ahead, but this was an absolute triumph, and, most pleasingly, one richly-deserved.

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Spurs match reports

Man city 3-0 Spurs: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. Lloris

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

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

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

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

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

2. Hojbjerg

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

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

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

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

3. Lamela and Lucas

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

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

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

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

4. Ndombele and the First Half Formation

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

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

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

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

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

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

5. Bale and Alli

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

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

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

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

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

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Spurs match reports

Spurs 2-0 Man City: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. Jose’s Tactics

It says much about the tactical scribblings of Our Glorious Leader that after a match in which all 14 players used can be congratulated for performing to the absolute peak of their powers, the first roses are strewn in the direction of the manager.

But no doubt about it, Jose and The Brains Trust did not leave a stone unturned in this one, with every slightest tactical eventuality seemingly taken care of. Everywhere one looked on the pitch there seemed to be a tactical tweak with Jose’s name scrawled over it, from the switch of Sonny from left to right, to the use of Sissoko as an additional defender in between right-back and centre back, via Hojbjerg’s more central berth and Kane’s deeper role.

I don’t mind admitting that The Angst of Over Three Decades of Spurs Supporting was weighing pretty heavily upon me in the first half, as our tactic became clear. Sitting back and soaking up pressure is one thing, but trying to do so for ninety minutes against a team as nifty on the ball as Man City struck me as a dashed dangerous game to play, and the wildly escalating AANP blood pressure during that first 45 no doubt bore provided sound medical evidence of this truth.

Looking back however, it is a testimony both to Jose’s masterplan and the concentration of troops invovled that City’s only clear shots at goal were two headers from set-pieces – and even then, the first was from quite a distance, on account of the delightful high defensive line now deployed, which cunningly acts as a safety net against our inability to man-mark.

On top of which, every time we touched the ball – which admittedly seemed only to be around once every ten minutes – we looked like scoring. City, for all their pretty patterns in possession, resembled a gang of schoolboys in a playground when it came to defending, all bluster but precious little strategy, and were duly cut to ribbons.

Our opening goal itself was a thing of beauty, each of its constituent parts worthy of some pretty gushing praise; and then the offside effort would have been one of the goals of the season if Kane had not rather unnecessarily strayed forward a moment too soon (one does wonder if that lad will ever cut it at the highest level) – but the gist of the thing was clear enough in the first half, and hammered home in the second, that ours were a menacing mob when attacking.

2. Ndombele (and Lo Celso)

Much has been made, by the chaps paid to opine on these things, of the contribution of Kane to the first goal. And no doubt about it, Kane’s novel ruse of jogging five yards towards the ball pretty much seemed to cause the heads of both City central defenders to explode, leaving a red carpet down which Sonny was able to saunter.

But what went largely overlooked was the contribution of Ndombele (not least by the Sky Sports bod in charge of the pictures, who displayed that modern pandering to the cult of managers’ personalities rather than the actual football, by zooming in on Pep instead of showing the blasted game).

Ndombele’s ability to take several players out of the game simply by swerving his upper body is fast achieving the sort of mesmeric status previously reserved for David Blaine and others of his mind-boggling ilk. It was a trait previously exemplified in lilywhite by Mousa Dembele, and rarely was it better demonstrated, and to better effect, than by Ndombele in assisting Son, when he received the ball facing his own goal, and then took a leaf out of the Kane Book of Making Opposition Heads Explode by ducking in one direction and weaving off in another.

That done, he then drizzled a little icing on top, in the form of a chipped pass weighted with backspin, all of which meant that young Sonny, who rarely needs to be told twice to rev up and motor, barely had to break stride.

While that was arguably Ndombele’s most eye-catching contribution, the impromptu applause which greeted his every touch – and body swerve – thereafter was reflective of the fellow’s remarkable ability to create space where previously there was none, simply by a wiggle of the upper body.

Others around him may have put in more relentless, non-stop running shifts, but Ndombele’s brief was more around positioning, availability and shielding of the ball when collecting it from defensive chums, each of which qualities feature fairly prominently on the Tanguy CV. While this is admittedly a little like praising a sedated polar bear for its sensible conservation of energy, that role of being the first available option when ridding the ball from defence was an important one, and the man did a sterling job.

And then, when the last drop of fuel was wrung from his frame, Lo Celso replaced him with strict instruction to treat the ball with the same paternal care, but with a few additional dollops of energy – as immediately demonstrated by the forty yard sprint for his goal, a feat, one suspects with the greatest goodwill, of which Ndombele would not have been capable.

(As a side note, another stellar performance from P-E Hojbjerg was discreetly gilded with the interception that led to him being fouled – from which free-kick Ndombele swerved and Sonny scored. Easy to miss, but it was further evidence to support the general theory that Hojbjerg’s Every Contribution is Immense.)

3. Aurier: Pleasant Surprises From The Usual Scapegoats, Part 1

Those familiar with the AANP way of things will know that at this juncture, the drill tends to be to add another splash of bourbon and set about lazily chiding Serge Aurier for abandoning his post to dive two-footed into the nearest moving body.

But as if to illustrate through one real-time example quite what a difference Jose can make, Aurier behaved impeccably throughout. I rubbed my eyes, and pinched myself, and poured another splash for luck, but could not doubt the evidence of my eyes: not one reckless challenge, not too many misdirected simple passes, mostly staying on his feet – mostly – and a general positional discipline of which the chap has not once in his career previously shown himself capable.

It was surreal stuff, which seemed to suggest that either the arrival of Doherty has spurred him onto greater heights, or, as seems vastly more probable, he has been kidnapped, cloned and a positionally-aware doppelganger now occupies the space where once Aurier leapt towards calamity.

4. Dier: Pleasant Surprises From The Usual Scapegoats, Part 2

A couple of steps to the left, and Eric Dier seemed similarly determined to avoid his weekly AANP berating. Pundits have been clambering over each other to insist that Dier is now a defensive colossus, seemingly on account of that one (admittedly impressive) twisty, headed, off-the-line clearance a couple of weeks ago – but over in these parts we remain vastly unconvinced of his worth as an elite centre-back.

Make no mistake, Dier will mooch around in the right vicinity, and is relatively vocal, but as I repeat on a weekly basis, he is neither the quickest nib nor the most alert to opposition movement, and his passing as often misses as hits.

Yesterday however, the fellow shirked no responsibility, and made not one false move. It was as close to flawless as such things get. I suspect that defending deep benefits the man, as it removes from the equation any test of his pace (or lack thereof) – as was the case with John Terry, a few years back – but even so, much had to be done positionally, and Dier did not miss a trick. Be it a block, interception or tackle, the lad was not to be beaten.

5. Our Title Parade in May

It would be easy to recline, light a smug cigar and lovingly ramble on about the contributions of all involved, but as there are another six months until we are eventually crowned champions there seems plenty of time to single out each of the individual title-winners before the white and blue ribbons are eventually tied around the thing.

It is such a formality that there seems a pretty strong chance that the league will just be called off now and the silverware packed off to N17 immediately, and few around the country would quibble.

The only things that can possible prevent our title parade – and they are but minor details – are our central defence, and the potential (nay, inevitable) injuries to key personnel.

With regards to centre-backs, the audible twang of Toby’s groin was the only blot on yesterday’s escutcheon. I don’t mind admitting that I don’t trust any of our gaggle of central defenders, but I probably mistrust Toby the least, even if he is not quite the reliable rock of old.

But with Sanchez yet to convince that he can complete 90 minutes without at least one costly aberration, Rodon untried at this level and Tanganga very much categorised as ‘Promising But Flawed’, one does rather bite the lip nervously at the prospect of one of the above manning the gates in our coming fixtures.

Moreover, where Toby has fallen foul of muscle-based woe, you can bet your mortgage that one or two others will follow in due course. And while our squad depth is like nothing previously seen around these parts, long-term injuries to any of Hojbjerg, Kane or Son in particular would considerably weaken the whole.

Rather a shame to speculate on this, as the title would otherwise be ours at a canter, clearly, but into all lives must some rain must fall, as the chap blathered.

Nevertheless, after such a pleasing afternoon’s work as yesterday’s, the only reasonable point of debate now seems to be whether Ledley will be allowed to lift the Premier League trophy in May.

Spurs’ Cult Heroes: Christmas approacheth, and if you’re looking for a stocking-filler for the Spurs fan in your life, you could do worse than AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes, charting the careers of 20 of the most popular players in Tottenham’s history.

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Spurs match reports

Spurs 2-0 Man City: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. Tactics

A much-needed restorative – as restoratives typically are – but I would be deceiving my public if I were to suggest that this was one of those performances bossed by Team Lilywhite throughout, with serene progress being the order of the day and barely a bead of sweat between the eleven.

Truth be told, we scored from two of our three shots, and they from none of their near-twenty, and while the outcome of proceedings is neatly summarised by the epithet “Two-nil”, the story of the thing is better encapsulated by that two-from-three-plays-nought-from-circa-twenty gag.

(Although even that doesn’t tell the half of it, as there were all manner of sub-plots and embellishments, in the form of red cards, VAR, rattling woodwork and whatnot.)

As per the shots on goal stat, this was one of those binges in which no secret was made of the fact that our lot were going to sit tight, organise themselves into “Repel” mode and close their eyes and blindly hope that the ball channeled its inner Spurs fan when deciding which way to bounce. Extraordinarily enough, each of these three critical factors were achieved, and off into the sunset we toddled, three points the precious cargo.

Now being the sort whose greatest influence in their formative years were Ossie’s 5-0-5 formation, and the 4-3 whirlwinds it generated, I can’t say that I’m particularly enamoured of seeing our heroes set up to defend for their lives and play on the counter, but on this occasion – and, one suspects, on others to come – this was a pragmatic enough approach, so one bites the tongue and silently complies. It seemed to be for the greater good.

However, we tried a similar approach a few weeks ago at home to Liverpool, and on that occasion I did not hold back, some stinging rebukes, you will no doubt recall, decorating these very pages. What has changed, you may ask? Well, the scoreline, for a start – questionable tactical approaches are always strangely more palatable when they result in victory after all.

But more than that I was taken by the fact that yesterday our counter-attacking hinged on quick, short passes from defence to midfield to attack, as if a game of pass the parcel were being played at close quarters with a particularly hot potato. It was generally five- to ten-yard stuff, and there was little dithering or standing on ceremony.

This all sat in pleasing contradistinction to the decidedly more neanderthalic counter-attacking efforts against Liverpool, which seemed purely to revolve in blasting the ball sixty yards from defence at every opportunity, and waving the forwards off into the distance with an encouraging yell of “Run, Forrest.”

Yesterday we undoubtedly benefited from the fact that City hit pretty much everything except the net at which they were aiming – and the limited intelligence of the lad Zinchenko – but nevertheless our nifty counter-attacking played a crucial role.

2. Lo Celso

And foremost amongst those executing the nifty counter-attacks – the Nifty Counter-Attacker-In-Chief, if you will – was Lo Celso, an egg whose talents in this area are fast establishing him as the most important cog in our attacking machinery.

Ever since we turned the corner and became actually half-decent at this football lark, elbowing our way into the Top Four and then retaining that spot even as it morphed into a Top Six, the hills have been alive with the sound of groans at our laboured inability to break down defensive teams, due to dwelling on the ball, taking five or six touches and the reverting to the most impotent sideways and backward passes conceivable.

Now Man City are hardly the poster boys for teams that come to the Lane to defend – quite the opposite in fact – but the tendency amongst our midfield to take far more touches than decency permits has generally remained strong.

Yesterday, however, Lo Celso was having none of it. Here was a chap who already has a picture in his head of everyone’s whereabouts long before he receives the ball, and is therefore able to shove it along with minimum fuss and maximum effectiveness as soon as it reaches him. It makes a heck of a difference.

If nothing else it obliges opponents to interrupt their slumbers and shift their own positions, and also has the pleasing side effect of encouraging fellow lilywhites similarly to ping the ball around in prompt fashion (notably Winks, who on several occasions seemed suitably emboldened to pick forward passes, to which I’d previously assumed he were allergic).

As well as a gift for delivering both simple and complex passes without hesitation, Lo Celso also comes across as the sort who did not shove his vegetables to the side of his plate as a youth, bounding around throughout with pleasing energy, and also surprisingly willing to throw himself into physical contact. Here, one gets the sense, is a bean around whom a team could be built.

3. Tanganga

Meanwhile, in the less glamorous seats, Japhet Tanganga’s mind-boggling rise continued.

Having all but silenced Sadio Mane on debut, here he made a mighty impressive fist of things against the combined might of City’s manifold and whizzy attacking sorts, generally matching them for pace and beating them for strength throughout. His judgement occasionally wavers, but this, one would imagine, will improve with experience.

Various, more vaunted luminaries around him may benefit from peering across and taking a note or two, because Tanganga at times looked the most secure of the back-four (admittedly competition in this area was not strong, with Sanchez struggling in his first half distribution to distinguish between friend and foe, and Aurier delivering his customary aberration like clockwork).

If Lo Celso is the creative hub around which a future team could be built, Tanganga has the look of a chap upon whom a solid defensive foundation could be constructed.

4. Lloris

This felt like pretty cathartic stuff for Monsieur Lloris, for all sorts of reasons.

Firstly, the recent injury would presumably have hovered over him like a malevolent imp whispering unedifying notions in his ear, as he was tested throughout in both the shot-stopping and cross-handling departments. It is indicative of how his star has fallen in recent seasons that I was pretty taken aback at quite how faultless his handling was.

A World Cup-winning captain he might be, but the mistakes have flowed pretty thick and fast, so yesterday was one heck of an occasion to churn out his A-game.

On top of which, the penalty save was worth a goal in itself, and in the context of the game probably worth several, for if City had scored first one could well imagine with a shudder quite what carnage might have followed.

Oddly enough, it was not much more than a season ago that I would quite publicly bemoan the fact that I had never seen the blighter save a penalty in his whole Tottenham career. Yet in recent memory he has done so against Woolwich, Leicester and now twice against Man City, and each time in games in which they made a match-changing difference. It just goes to show, what?

Of course, Lloris being Lloris, within two shakes of a lamb’s tail of saving the penalty he was doing his best to concede another, but VAR oddly turned a blind eye, and the reckless oeuf remained a hero.

5. Bergwijn

A passing nod also to young Master Bergwijn, who has bagged himself a decent amount of credit in the bank with that quite marvellous chest and volley. Gorgeous technique, which just illustrates how well things can go when the stars align.

The finish elevated the chap’s debut to some heady heights, when in truth his contribution had until then been limited to a couple of touches of style, and fairly minimal substance.

Early days of course, so this is not to chide him. His box of tricks evidently is evidently a pretty sizeable one, and he appears to have a burst of pace about him and does not shirk a challenge.

However, he was a relatively peripheral figure in the first half, throwing in some nifty footwork on occasions as if to remind us that he was still in residence, before disappearing from sight completely in the second half, until his goal.

One gets the impression that we will only be able to make a full assessment from next season, when he is fully up to speed – and fitness – but it was nevertheless a cracking way to begin life in these parts.

AANP would like to hear from you! I am compiling my latest book, on Spurs fan favourites – if you were a fan of the club in any era from 50s/60s through to 90s/00s, please drop me a line at aanp1999@gmail.com, or tweet @aanp_spurs

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Spurs match reports

Man City 2-2 Spurs: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. Excellent Result, Pretty Middling Performance

A wonkily-balanced beast if ever I set eyes upon one, this was a result that on paper merited the highest praise going, because as well being an all-conquering sort of mob, who routinely pummel their opponents for five of six of the finest, City were on a run of 15 consecutive wins, which even the most begrudging would admit is indicative of a team that knows what it’s about.

You would therefore think that a draw against this lot is something about which to make quite the song and dance. And yet…

Not to put too fine a point on it, and not to denigrate the efforts of our honest lot – but we were pretty bang average throughout. One understands the mentality of setting up to defend as if lives depended upon it, but there was little chance of this tactic holding out for the full 90 minutes, and as it happened it only lasted 20.
Nor was our defending much to write home about. Admittedly City don’t make such tangos particularly easy work, but for all the finery about the build-up to City’s two goals, our defending was pretty wretched fare, with runs not tracked and lethal strikers not appropriately shackled.

And aside from the goals, City did not just dominate possession, they fairly comfortably made a hatful of chances.

So defensively this was no particular masterclass, and going forward there was no great bite either. The bods inform me that we managed three shots in the entire game – one of which was Kane from halfway, and the other two of which we scored. And as the goals themselves were from a corner and a most peculiar long-range effort, it all points towards a performance in which we did precious little to trouble City in any department.

So much for the debit column. Squinting so that the glass is actually half-full, the fact is that we scored twice at the Etihad and came away with a draw. Precious few teams will do either of these things this season.

To play as poorly as that and come away with a point, against the current and likely future Champions no less, is the sign of a team that has some backbone to it. In seasons gone by we have fallen short in our away fixtures to the Top Six. No matter how we went about it, ultimately we achieved something pretty impressive yesterday.

2. KWP Survives

Pre kick-off the prognostications of doom amongst the great and good of AANP Towers were so heartfelt and unanimous that one might have been in the waiting room for the fires of Hades. ‘We’ll take a hammering’ was the gist of things around the campfire, with young Walker-Peters identified as the egg in for the worst of the treatment, being up against Sterling.

It is to KWP’s credit therefore, that he lived to tell the tale.
He was not quite flawless in his day’s work – Sterling had the freedom of Manchester for the first goal, and bested our man in a couple of one-on-ones thereafter – but nor was this the stuff of nightmares. Considering his defensive prowess alone, KEP certainly rolls up his sleeves and sticks to the task at hand.

He received a degree of help from midfielders in the vicinity, as I am sure Our Glorious Leader had mapped out ought to be the case beforehand, but with memories of Sterling tearing apart Trippier in last season’s Champions League, it was a mild relief to see that KWP possessed at least a vague sense of the guidelines around right-backing-vs-Sterling.

3. Playing Out From The Back

For the first 20 minutes our heroes did not touch the ball, at the culmination of which period City scored and all manner of problems arose. Immediately afterwards however, and for occasional short bursts thereafter, the gameplan from our lot seemed to be to pass out from the back.

Now as any right-minded soul will tell you, the sight of your team trying casually to one- and two-touch their way from their own penalty area up to halfway is enough to do the cardio apparatus some serious mischief. I’ve seen it with England, and yesterday our heroes had the AANP heart-rate surging through the roof as every one of them who received possession in and around our own penalty area casually left it until the last possible moment before releasing to a nearby chum.

Marvellously, and barely credibly, it often worked. With City attackers homing in on whomever of our mob were in possession, said man in possession would dip a shoulder and squirt the ball towards a colleague, who would gather it in the nick of time, dip a shoulder and squirt the ball onwards, and the whole death-defying system repeated.

At any given juncture in this precarious fandango, it appeared that an approaching City type would steal in and be away with the ball, and in on goal. As such, the whole thing could only be watched from behind the sofa.

But somehow, and to the credit of goalkeeper, defenders and midfielders, our lot generally kept their heads sufficiently to keep doing this, and successfully so.

In theory, this can be a pretty handy way of beating a high press and finding things opening up considerably on halfway. It retains possession – which is a pretty vital commodity against City – better than a goalkeeper’s punt upfield would. It’s just torture to watch.

4. Winks

Within this approach of playing out from the back, I’ll give a gentle doff of the cap to young Master Winks.

As noted in these very pages last week, when we’re pushing for a goal and in need of an incisive, defence-splitting pass, Winks is not necessarily the man. His safety-first mentality and tendency to protect possession first and worry about creating chances later means that he is not really the chap towards whom you turn when in need of attacking inspiration.

However, if the order of the day is protecting possession because failure to do so will result in City running rings – and passing triangles – around you, then Winks’ number ought to be on speed-dial, and I thought that yesterday, when we had those little spells of possession, he played the role of string-puller-in-chief with a decent slab of aplomb.

In terms of protecting the ball, dipping his shoulder, finding space and then giving it, he starts to remind me of Michael Carrick, from the misty-eyed days of Martin Jol (blessed be his name). Winks does not have the passing range of Carrick, but something about the way in which he protects possession gladdens the soul.

However, after an hour we were trailing and in need of a goal, so he was rightly hooked.

5. Eriksen Anonymous

A bit harsh to single out Eriksen as under-performing, as few in lilywhite (or rather natty dark blue) did much to enhance their reputations yesterday.

However, the debate about the merits of otherwise of Eriksen rages on. To recap, the AANP view is that for a man of such talent, he ought to be the central figure in games, with everything going through him and emanating from him – much as was the case last week when he trotted on against West Ham. Too often, continues the AANP view, Eriksen will produce one or two gorgeous moments, which make it to Match of the Day highlights, but will be largely anonymous for the remaining 89 or so minutes.

The contrary view is that this does the chap an enormous disservice, that he was overworked last season – which explains his occasional quiet games – and that he is the one man in the team capable of producing game-changing moments of creativity from midfield.

To be honest I think it is possible to hold both views without contradiction, but that’s one for another day.

Yesterday, having been restored to the starting line-up, I looked pleadingly towards Eriksen for some on-ball leadership, but after 90 minute it felt that this was another one chalked up as a bit of a non-event for the fellow.

To reiterate, a little harsh to single him out, but in the context of the ongoing arguments about whether he really is indispensable to our cause, this was an opportunity missed for him to get on the ball and boss things.

All in all, points away to Man City are like gold dust. For all the grumbles about performance, this was one heck of a result for us, and should performances dial up a notch or two, as one would expect, we might be in for a decent ride this season.

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Spurs preview

CL Final Preview: 6 Players Who Took Tottenham To The Final

1. Hugo Lloris

Heaven knows I’ve been at the front of the queue when it’s come to sticking the knife into our skipper – and giving it a vigorous twist for good measure too – because the absurd, unforced errors have come thick and fast in the last season or two. However, when push met shove in the business end of this season’s Champions League, Lloris thrust out limbs like nobody’s business.

The Dortmund away leg springs to mind, a game into which we took a three-goal lead but looked for all the money in the world like we wouldn’t make it to half-time without being pegged back.

Dortmund brought their A-game, slicing us apart with the sort of blurry whizz of motion that Ajax were to replicate in the semi-final. Time and again they skipped past each of our massed ranks until finding themselves staring into the whites of Lloris’ eyes; but time and again our captain did the necessary, no matter how unlikely the laws of physics suggested this would be. Re-watch the highlights of that first half in particular, and one needs to dust off the abacus to rack up the precise number of point-blank saves made.

Fast-forward a couple of months, and within ten minutes of the quarter-final first leg at home to Man City, VAR had awarded a penalty against Danny Rose, and the customary uphill slog looked set to kick in.

Enter, yet again, Monsieur Lloris, to repel Aguero’s spot-kick and breathe fresh life into this unlikeliest of campaigns. Had Aguero scored, the away goals advantage would have gone up in smoke there and then, and more pertinently City might well have racked up a hatful.

2. Moussa Sissoko

AANP’s player of the season, Sissoko seems to have improved with every game, transforming before our goggling eyes from figure of fun to critical cog in the machinery. One moment that summed up this metamorphosis was his gallop forward in the closing stages at home to Inter.

By that stage of the campaign it was win or bust, thrice in a row. A sloppy start had left our heroes with one point from three games, and any thoughts of winning the whole dashed thing had been tied up in a sack, weighed down with bricks and dropped overboard. Needing a win to avoid elimination in each of Matchdays 4, 5 and 6, this seemed rather unlikely against Inter, until the final 10 minutes, when Sissoko took it upon himself to put his head down and charge into enemy territory.

One is reluctant to blame the Inter mob for backing off, for it would be a brave man to try to impede a Sissoko gathering a head of steam. The chap drove from Point A, around 10 yards inside his own half, to Point B well inside the Inter penalty area, with the sort of steely determination that one dares not interrupt, and with each step began imprinting himself into Tottenham folklore.

He found Dele, who swivelled and found Eriksen, and his finish kept our heads above water. Just.

Further approving nods to Sissoko for setting up Kane away to Dortmund, and filling in at auxiliary right-back away to Barcelona, after KWP was hooked and we went in desperate search of an equaliser.

And of course, his introduction against Ajax in the semi-final first leg did just about enough to wrest the game away from them.

3. Jan Vertonghen

One of several who made pretty vital, last-ditch stretches away to Dortmund, to keep our hosts at bay and our 3-0 lead in tact when it seemed that calamity might befall, my best mate’s true value was demonstrated in the first leg of that same tie.

Playing at left wing-back Vertonghen first went toe-to-toe with Jadon Sancho, by the skin of his teeth keeping the young pup contained in a first half in which we were decidedly second best.

In the second half, however, Vertonghen emerged as an irresistible creative force from left-back, flying down the flank with unsullied abandon, whipping in a series of crosses that sent the Dortmund central defence into a frightful tizz and capping things off with a striker’s finish to put us two goals ahead and take something of a knife to Dortmund’s spirits.

That Vertonghen-inspired win gave us enough breathing space to survive the second leg onslaught – and just like that, we were in the quarter-finals.

4. Harry Kane

An enforced absentee for various critical stages of the campaign, Kane still popped up with a number of pretty vital finishes hither and thither. Hardly a surprise, as 14 goals in 18 Champions League appearances does point to a chap who bounds around the place ticking boxes at this level like it’s going out of fashion, but it’s still rather easy to forget his contribution to this season’s effort.

Most notably this occurred at home to PSV in the group stage. Again, it was a game in which nothing less than victory would suffice – so obviously we went behind in the first minute.

And there we remained until the final 10, when Kane’s relentless focus on hitting the target paid off, albeit in slightly more nerve-jangly fashion than would have been ideal.

First a pot-shot in a crowded area found the bottom corner; and then in the final moments a header towards the right-hand corner took a hefty deflection of one PSV torso to send it towards the middle of the goal, and then for good measure detoured again, of another PSV limb, to trickle apologetically into the bottom left.

They all count – as Kane, more than most, will testify – and on we stumbled marched.

5. Fernando Llorente

Another of those chaps who puts the “fickle” into “AANP”, I can quite easily wile away a spare half hour by simply lambasting Fernando Llorente – and yet few have been more critical to what might be the most brilliant success in our history.

As aforementioned, when needing a win at home to PSV, we did it the Spurs way and entered the final 10 minutes a goal down. By this point Llorente had been unceremoniously deposited into the PSV area, and duly earned his keep. Give him a chance two yards in front of goal and the ball might end up anywhere in the solar system, but tell him to hold up the ball, hold off a central defender and lay the ball delicately into the path of Harry Kane, and he’s in business. He did just that, Kane scored and we went on to scrape a win.

Fast forward to the quarter-final away leg at Man City, and Llorente produced the sort of finish that only a man of his questionable finishing ability can produce. Closing his eyes and hoping to win a header from a waist-height cross, he did enough to bundle his way in front of his man, and use a questionable combination of hip and possibly-or-possibly-not wrist to force the ball in. And then celebrated like we fans were celebrating.

Fast forward even further, and with nothing left to lose in the semi-final second leg against Ajax, Llorente’s very presence, introduced at half-time, did enough to sow seeds amongst the Ajax defence. Daly Blind in particular spent most of that half casting a perturbed hand across a distinctly fevered brow, as Llorente simply bullied him.

Aside from any contributions to goals, this helped changed the pattern of play, and momentum of the game. And then, ultimately, his ungainly, angular poke of the ball, in the final minute of added time, was enough to give Dele a yard, and then Lucas Moura… [goosebumps]

6. Lucas Moura

Not just a man for a semi-final hat-trick, Lucas also scored in the dying minutes against Barcelona, in yet another of those group stage games in which we desperately needed a win and therefore conceded early.

Lucas charged in to slap the ball home from close range, and with a little help from PSV we went from one point after three games, to qualification for the knockouts.

And what a knockout it was shaping up to be in the semi-final. In truth, until he scored I was rather despairing of Lucas’ contribution. Frenetic and a little wasteful when on the gallop; unable to link with midfield when dropping deep with back to goal; and without a shot in anger in the whole first half, he seemed just another one of those waving forlornly as the game passed him by.

But then, by golly what an impact. The surge of pace to latch on to Dele’s touch for the first goal was worthy of an Olympic sprinter.

The footwork to dance around the Ajax 6-yard box before scoring the second was worthy of any head-down 9 year-old in the playground.

And then the winner, placed into the only available spot in the net, at the last possible moment before two Ajax defenders could and would have blocked it, and as the clock ticked from 94:59 to 95:00…

I’m not sure there will ever be a Tottenham Hotspur moment quite like it. The bedlam, the en masse Ajax faceplant, the repeated viewings and the full 24 hours it took to register the enormity. On top of which, it’s rather pleasing that the hero of the hour was one of the more unlikely sorts, as it does hammer home that the whole thing was quite the collective effort (which makes a mockery of a list of 6 individuals, but over that we quietly gloss). Heroes, predictable and otherwise, at every turn – one wonders if there is room for one more name to be heralded on Saturday…

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Spurs match reports

Man City 1-0 Spurs: Five Tottenham Observations

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1. Missed Chances

Quite the oddity this, because despite taking a fearful battering, in the first half in particular, we probably ought to have won the thing with a spot of breathing space, purely in terms of chances created.

Sonny twice (possibly thrice?), Eriksen and Lucas Moura all had chances that one under oath might have described as “presentable”. Not just scrambled, snapshot efforts, but bona fide whites-of-the-keeper’s-eyes stuff. Some pretty slick build-up play too, which was stirring to watch.

Credit in a sense must therefore be slopped pretty generously upon the plate of Our Glorious Leader, who set us up most pointedly to play on the counter-attack – with both of Lucas and Sonny unleashed, and Llorente’s rather alternative take on things kept under lock and key on the sidelines.

Everybody else in our number was tasked with chasing Man City shadows, but the deployment of both Son and Lucas at the pointy edge of things had the City centre-backs squirming throughout. Either our front two were sprinting at them, or they were threatening to sprint at them, which in a way felt every bit as effective – rather like one of those ghastly horror films one sees, in which a heroine picks her way through a silent and foreboding house, and although nothing is actually happening on screen, it still sends the pulse into overdrive because of the fear that at any given moment some scoundrel might leap out from the shadows and do some mischief.

Alas, whereas on Wednesday night we were impressively clinical, today all who found themselves in front of goal were a mite too ponderous about their business. All seemed to want an extra touch, when really the hurly-burly nature of the fare meant that it was an occasion for rather swifter and more decisive action.

2. Line-Up

I gave Poch credit for the set-up, and he certainly improvised well given the depleted resources, but I suppose his hand was slightly forced. With players dropping like flies he went for the rarely-seen Six Central Defenders Gambit, and I suppose this was as suitable a time to do so as any, given that City have nift and trickery seeping from every pore.

Alas, despite the presence of so many versed in the art of centre-backery, we still managed to leave arguably the most lethal striker of the last five years completely unmarked inside the penalty area within the first five minutes, and calamity duly befell. Fingers of blame duly wagged at Sanchez (which was actually the only blot on an otherwise mightily impressive escutcheon) and Toby, for nodding off at their sentry posts.

At that point I grimaced the grimace of a man who foresaw all the walls caving in and at double-quick rate, because City, already stoked for revenge, raged around the place looking like chaps very much with the scent of blood lingering in the nostrils.

They hogged possession and battered away, but, gradually at first and then with increasing regularity and control, our massed ranks of defensive types repelled them. I rather certainly for the midfield three of Dier, Eriksen and Dele, relentlessly shuttling hither and thither in the midday sun, but although they struggled to control things, they did enough to help out the back five.
Wobbly though we had looked at the outset, by the time the second half pootled around the complexion of things had begun to change, and the expectation was as much that we might nab a counter-attack chance as that City might double their lead.

A shame that shooting boots were not packed – but ultimately few complaints. City were, as ever, pretty good value for the win.

3. Foyth Impresses

After witnessing Trippier being led a merry dance on Wednesday, I feared for the earnest but flawed young buck Juan Foyth when the actors took to the stage and Raheem Sterling gave him the once-over. Their opening tête-à-tête duly made for grisly viewing, as Sterling left Foyth reeling through a cloud of jet-heeled dust; but thereafter our man grew into the game, and just about edged a very tough personal duel.

Under strict instructions to show Sterling down the line, Foyth did so with admirable judgement, and also a few dollops of hitherto unknown body-strength, which earned a tick or two in the AANP book. Credit also to Sanchez for offering generous assistance; and even when Sane entered the arena and the nature of the threat took a subtle turn, Foyth was generally equal to it.

He does still rather dwell on things when in possession, as if inclined to take four or five seconds to admire his immediately preceding handiwork, but where there might have a pretty seismic Achilles’ Heel we did in fact boast a pretty well-secured potential entry route.

4. The Angry Rose Cameo

Danny Rose’s fragile limbs means that the angry young tyro cannot legally be fielded for two sets of 90-minute fare within four days, so he had to content himself with around twenty minutes in which to vent his incessant rage, and simultaneously enrage all those in opposition.

But by golly, doesn’t he do that well? He stormed onto the pitch to take a midfield role, immediately looking aggrieved at the state of things, and duly communicated this by executing a perfectly legal tackle on Bernardo Silva that was accompanied by a quite unnecessary and thoroughly enjoyable follow-through, sufficient to send the chap flying.

Thereafter the general level of angst and needle amongst both sets of players shot through the roof. In a way this might have been to our detriment, because City were already losing the plot quite comfortably on their own, without any egging from our heroes, and the added level of aggravation merely prevented us from counter-attacking as repeatedly as we needed.

However, in the grander scheme of things I was jolly pleased to see our lot take a leaf out of the Rose Playbook and mooch around with scowls on faces and flying tackles in their feet. From the off, City had shown far more desire, and our lot had given the impression that they were satisfied with Wednesday night’s outcome. City had continually hounded us and won back possession in the early flashes, so, late though it was, I was pleased to observe us at least finish with some appetite for the fight.

5. Muted Dier Performance

As an aside, one notes with concern that in 20 or so minutes, Rose kicked immeasurably more lumps out of opponents than self-styled hard man Eric Dier managed in his 60 minutes. The AANP Jury remains far from convinced on Dier. Though a handy asset given his versatility, he displays neither boundless energy nor exquisite positional sense, nor is he possessed of a particularly notable range of passing.

When sitting in midfield on days like today, his task is presumably to act as a disruptive and destructive influence, making forceful tackles or at the very least giving the opponent in possession a friendly shove – but today he contributed little. As stated, Rose performed the role in vastly more eye-catching manner.

All told, however, this was game from which anything other than a hammering would have been a pleasant surprise. Having created that many chances it was a shame to lose by a single goal, but a string of winnable games now sits between our lot and a top four finish.

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Spurs match reports

Man City 4-3 Spurs: Five Tottenham Observations

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So for those who had the slightest doubt, that is why it’s called All Action, No Plot.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but this was one of those madcap jamborees in which words just rather flit into the ether, and one is left gawping, a mere spectator, as utter madness unfolds. Five goals in the opening twenty – and even that did not compare with the quite gut-wrenching finale of unadulterated ridiculousness.

1. Nerves Shredded To Dust

It is not the first time this thought has occurred, but rarely have I been more struck by the notion that watching Spurs will be the death of me. I will simply keel over and be no longer for this mortal coil, the trusty blood-pumper simply not up to the rigours of watching our eleven heroes in lilywhite toying with the nerves.

To order things chronologically, there was simply no time to get one’s head around the unfolding madness in those opening ten minutes or so. They scored, and we scored, and we scored, and they scored, and – well, one gets the gist. Every time we tried to take a deep breath and get our heads around the permutations, another goal flew in and all that had gone before was as naught. It really was most discombobulating.

In the midst of those opening thrusts, Sissoko injured himself in a manner that was so innocuous it could only possibly have been pretty dashed serious, and in one of those decisions that was entirely in keeping with the utterly sanity-free nature of proceedings, Our Glorious Leader replaced him with Senor Llorente. And Sissoko was booked for being substituted. Really.

2. Llorente: Zero, Hero and All Things In Between

Might as well dwell further on Llorente and his impact on things. Both match-winner and cause of our near-downfall, the honest fellow’s introduction pretty much sucked the life out of all we had as an attacking force, at around the 40-minute mark.

Admittedly we were hardly bossing proceedings until then, but for all City’s razor-sharp potency in the first half we did at least possess a heck of a threat until that point. With Lucas and Sonny looking shifty, and bringing about two early goals, there was plenty about which the City back-line might ponder.

Llorente did his best, as ever, but rather than the desired effect of holding up the ball and allowing others to zip up in support, he lumbered this way and that, a good few yards behind the City back-line. His introduction inadvertently castrated our counter-attacking prowess.

And yet.

Cometh what seemed like our only foray into the City third, in that relentless second half, cometh the hip – and quite possibly the elbow, or wrist, or some other stray upper limb – of Llorente. For a chap whose forte is supposedly his heading, it was a pretty atrocious effort, his head nowhere near the ball – and it was also the most gorgeous finish I think I’ve ever witnessed. The AANP tuppence worth on the VAR call: not a clear and obvious error. So there.

3. Full-Back Struggles

Easy to criticise, and I’m not sure the fires of hell itself are as unforgiving as the rampaging forward thrusts of the quite majestic Sterling and De Bruyne – but Rose and, in particular, Trippier, were so adrift in those opening twenty minutes that the whole thing seemed to be in contravention to the rules.

Trippier is a mighty fine attacking threat against just about any team in the world, but he supposedly is a defender by trade, and his approach to containing Sterling was so weak as to be laughable, comprising, as it did, the grand plan of showing the chap onto his stronger foot. For goodness’ sake.

Rather harsh to zoom in on the full-backs when our entire team was being cut to ribbons fairly incessantly in the second half, but I did not think either full-back covered themselves in glory in their individual battles out wide. Oddly enough, when matters became a mite more last-ditch and backs-to-the-wall, and all a matter of blocking and hacking clear, they both looked a bit more dependable.

Worth emphasising also that Messrs Lloris, Alderweireld and my mate Vertonghen used every inch of their nous and defensive skill during that second half battering. Bravo, chaps. Lloris in particular, so often lambasted in these parts for his moments of startling wobbliness, delivered some top-notch palm extensions.

4. The Famous Soft Tottenham Underbelly

Easy also to overlook quite what a remarkable effort this was. In the context of not spending a penny on players for two transfer windows – against a team that flings around monopoly money – and to take the field without our main striker, one had only to look at our substitute options to get the sense that we would need something verging on the other-worldly to pull this off.

The departure of Sissoko in the first half simply made the dashed difficult unfeasibly testing. A glance towards the respective benches highlighted the fact that we are woefully undercooked for such top-level squad jousting.

No faulting the effort of those involved, but Wanyama looked every inch a player who has barely played in the last two seasons; Llorente looked every inch a man in his mid-thirties looking rather bewildered at the vastly trendier youths whizzing about him; and the options on the bench, of Walker-Peters, Davies, Skipp et al did not inspire lashings of confidence.

They deserve every ounce of praise therefore, for staying within touching distance throughout, forcing their noses ahead seemingly through sheer force of will, and then clinging on for dear life.

5. That Finale

I don’t mind admitting to my public that I felt physically sick throughout, and reached what one might term a lowest ebb when Sterling bundled in what appeared to be the winner in the dying moments of added time.

I’m not sure I’ve ever experienced the lowest conceivable low being instantly interrupted by the highest possible high, but it really ought to come with a health warning. For a game that I’d cheerily dismissed beforehand as a free hit, one that did not really matter in the grand scheme of things, and of vastly lesser importance than the domestic stuff on Saturday, this certainly drained the engine.

Utterly incredibly, we are through to the semi-finals of the Champions League – this after being within a few minutes of elimination seemingly throughout the group stages. And without any signings. And without our star striker. And so on and so forth.

Utterly bonkers, and utterly compelling all action, no plot stuff. Time for a stiff drink.

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Spurs 1-0 Man City: Five Tottenham Observations

1. A Marvellous Team Effort

What splendid viewing that made. And all the better for being a couple of notches above and beyond wildest dreams.

Given recent form, the quality of the opposition and, frankly, the weathering effect upon the soul that three decades of Spurs-supporting inevitably has, the pre-match mood at AANP Towers was defeatist to the point of philosophical. “What the heck?” was the general, resigned tone, accompanied by suitably accepting shrug, “We aren’t expected or likely to win, so this amounts to something of a free hit.”

But goodness me, with the presumably strict tactical instructions of Our Glorious Leader ringing in their ears, our heroes played out scene after scene just about to perfection.

They hunted in packs as appropriate, but cunningly did so only at suitable junctures and as a team, similarly picking moments simply to sit off and let City mooch around in possession. While the sound of jangling nerves undoubtedly resounded a few times, particularly in the second half, as City buzzed around the edges of our area, they did not actually fashion a clear-cut chance, and Lloris was relatively untroubled.

Quite the triumph for teamwork then, but also as individuals just about every man in lilywhite – including subs Lucas, Wanyama and Llorente – excelled in their individual duties. Pre-match I had feared that 89 minutes of good honest graft might be undone by those increasingly typical moments of unforced madness that various individuals are liable to sprinkle around the place; but yesterday every man was near-faultless.

Sissoko was immense, carrying the ball forward like the slightly clunky ghost of Dembele and defending with non-nonsense force; Toby and Jan were watertight; young Winks repeatedly picked the sensible options, be they backwards or forwards; and Rose was a constant threat in his intriguing match-up with erstwhile chum Walker.

2. Lloris

Recent history dictates that if anyone were going to magic a calamitous error out of thin air it was our resident net-protector, but his handling was secure, and in saving the penalty he gave the entire place an almighty fillip.

This penalty-saving lark is becoming something of a habit, what? Which is all the more pleasing given that in his previous half-dozen or so years of employment I’m not sure I remember him diving into the right postcode when faced with a spot-kick, let alone saving one. Yet there he was, as clear as day, beating the thing away as if it were the most natural way in the world to right a wrong and inject a little fire into sixty thousand bellies.

Heaven knows I malign the chap like the dickens when he errs, so it is only right to salute him today.

3. Sonny Saves Augments The Day

By the time Sonny popped up with his coup de grâce I would happily have traded in my right arm for a goalless draw, so it would be a slight mangling of the Queen’s English to suggest that the cheery soul saved the day, but by golly he certainly popped a cherry on the top of it.

At that stage, deep into the second half, City had decided to go about their business with a darned sight more urgency, and while we weren’t exactly clinging on for dear life, we were backtracking into that sort of territory.

As so often happens, the absence of Kane seemed to remove a chain or two from the being of Son, and he appeared more than happy to occupy the vacated limelight.

It is an odd quirk, that the sight of Kane limping off down the multi-million pound tunnel did not sear my very core as once it might have done. Make no mistake, yesterday was a fine advert for the honest fellow’s general hold-up play, and until Llorente came on we had no similar apparatus in operation. However, this lot are now pretty well-versed in the art of Kanelessness, and actually I was more alarmed by the sight of Sonny going down with a wince a few minutes later.

Sonny will presumably be the focal point in future weeks, and much therefore depends on the supporting roles of Lucas, Llorente and Dele (plus Lamela, if he returns to fitness). All told, the absence of Kane is not the terminal blow it might seem.

4. Eriksen

While most in lilywhite peddled their wares with intense concentration and sterling effectiveness, for much of the game, and in keeping with recent weeks, I paced the corridors with concern at the outputs of Master Eriksen.

His workrate remains as good as ever, but for an hour or so his distribution was decidedly careless. For a man of such ability to misplace ten-yard passes, or suck the momentum out of attacks by passing south, struck me as a real waste, and a poorly-timed one at that. It seems no coincidence to me that our flatness during February and March has coincided with his swerve into off-boil territory.

Mercifully, he righted numerous recent wrongs with that delightful chip into the path of Sonny for the goal, and in general in the final twenty or so minutes of proceedings he danced around the expensive place with some of the old menace.

5. VAR

In truth I prefer not to wade into any topic that doesn’t have Tottenham at its front and centre, and frankly if the rules state that Rose’s was a handball then I’m willing to accept that and toddle along because such is life.

However, the lack of consistency irked me, I don’t mind admitting. The fact that the penalty was awarded despite literally no appeals for a handball does not irk me (it merely suggests that none of them were particularly familiar with the current rules); the lack of consistency does.

I happened to catch snippets of the Liverpool game being played concurrently, during which a pretty similar accidental handball occurred, and VAR decided against a penalty award. All of which gives the impression that rather than mete these things out consistently, they might as well be adjudged by the toss of a coin. If they want a ridiculous rule then so be it; but dash it, apply that rule consistently.

On top of which, it appears that elbows to the head are now also above board, in the all-seeing eyes of video refs. Which is fine by me, if that approach will now be universally applied; one rather suspects it won’t.

A tad harsh on Rose to be yellow-carded too, but such are the mind-boggling days in which we live. Ultimately the whole curious affair simply provided our heroes with a greater sense of injustice with which to fire them along.

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