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Man Utd 1-6 Spurs: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Hojbjerg’s Man of the Match Stuff

When Gary Neville took time out from his 90-minute long soliloquy on Man Utd to toss a Man of the Match award in the direction of the good ship Hotspur, he appropriately enough gave the matter zero thought and rattled off the first name that sprung to his mind, Harry Kane.

Now Kane is a man of multiple talents, just about all of which were on display today – and for those campers who are firmly pro-Kane but a little less decided on all things Hojbjerg, there might be value in skipping over the following few paragraphs and lapping up the Kane-heavy content below.

Here at AANP Towers however, the bouquets were being flung in the direction of P-E Hojbjerg throughout, because in a quiet and understated way the chap absolutely bossed proceedings.

When science progresses to the point that cutting open a chap’s brain to understand clearly how the levers and pulleys work is as regular as flicking on a light switch, I’ll happily petition for Master Hojbjerg to be the first to go under the knife, because his knack for knowing precisely where to be at any given point, on an expanse of land as big as – well, a football pitch – was uncanny.

Depending on any given circumstance in the game, Hojbjerg seemed able to glide into the optimal position to stick his oar into other people’s business. It mattered not whether we were in possession inside our own half, or just outside their area, or on the retreat as the other lot attacked – in much the same manner as one of those time-travelling robot assassins of Cyberdyne fame, Hojbjerg seemed able to whistle through a multitude of options in his head and instantly select the appropriate one, positioning himself accordingly.

At one point towards the end of the first half, first Reguilon and then Ndombele let possession slither away, and as the United dogs eagerly looked up for a counter-attack opportunity they were abruptly stopped by six feet and a few inches of pure Hojbjerg, stomping into view like one of those over-zealous doormen who are oddly averse to sitting down and discussing differences in the manner that decorum demands.

And if the situation called for those six feet and several inches to exert themselves in the muscle-and-sinew department. Hojbjerg was even more game, and at one point his enthusiasm for the lilywhite cause extended to an on-pitch celebration for a tackle by Serge Aurier. And how we have needed something like that at N17.

And then, as his piece de resistance, just when AANP thought that were no more worlds for the young Dane to conquer, he went and delivered – first time and with perfect weight – that pass inside the full-back that is the stuff of deities, to set up Aurier for his goal.

2. Kane Dropping Deep

As has been evidenced in recent weeks, Harry Kane, seems to have decided that he’s proved all he needs to prove in terms of goalscoring, and while everyone else gets on with the day-job he will throw in a spot of extra-curricular work in the Number 10 position.

The pass from the free-kick to release Son for one of the goals early on (let’s face it, it’s a struggle to remember them all, let alone their order) was the sort of stuff of which any lifelong, deep-lying creator would be proud.

He also pinged a couple of Hollywood balls into the path of Serge Aurier – although admittedly United’s defending was such that at times it seemed rude not to pick out Aurier – and even when not directly creating goalscoring opportunities, his tendency to stroll all the way back to halfway and even further gave the impression that here was an egg who was rather enjoying his latest hobby.

With Sonny the ever-willing runner ahead of him, and Lamela finding the whole thing an awfully good jape too, Kane’s drifts into deeper positions were pretty well complemented. Thrown Bale into the mix and I think we’re all going to need a stiff drink and a decent lie-down.

Not that Kane was going to neglect completely the meat and veg, and up he duly popped to score a poacher’s goal in the first half, and a trademark perfect penalty, into the side netting rather than the corner. All seemingly without breaking sweat.

On top of which, he, in common with various others – Lamela, Hojbjerg, Ndombele, Sonny, Aurier, Reguilon – was snapping at United heels like a man possessed from the off.

3. Aurier and Reguilon

Young Senor Reguilon had the sort of debut that will make the crowds gather and beg for more. Beating United 6-1 in their own backyard is pretty much beyond the stuff of dreams – but there it was for him, in black and white.

His own contribution seemed to pick up where he had left against Chelsea in midweek. The directive to go haring up the left-flank was one he seemed to receive as a small child might receive instruction to take whatever the hell he pleased from a sweetshop, and like some sort of little lamb in a nursery rhyme, whenever Sonny decided to stretch his legs on the inside left position, one could bet the mortgage that Regulon would be sure to go in a supporting role, five yards to the left.

Another feature of Reguilon’s game was more of that child-like enthusiasm in chasing down loose balls or opponents at every opportunity, as if absolutely desperate to impress his new paymasters. And quite rightly too, it’s the attitude one would expect from all in lilywhite. One hopes that experience does not diminish this youthful zeal.

On the other flank, Christmas came early for young Monsier Aurier, who was allowed to do whatever the hell he wanted all game. All of this was aided by United not really picking up the gist of the thing, and seemingly dealing with the problem by closing their eyes, putting their hands over their ears and singing loudly. In certain scenarios this counter-measure might prove effective, but today it did little to dent Aurier’s ambitions, and as well as multiple opportunities to cross he was also afforded enough time to score, which really is a nadir for any opposing defence.

Question marks over Aurier’s defending will presumably never disappear, but the suspicion remains that he considers himself an attacking sort, and when the opportunity arises to hit the final third he often delivers.

4. Lamela and the Dark Arts

Most self-respecting folk have had the good sense to acknowledge that rather than turn the game, the red card simply sped up the inevitable, whilst perhaps adding a dollop or two of good, honest comedy to the situation. Already in one heck of a pickle at that stage, United went through various stages of a toddler’s tantrum, by getting everything wrong, then sulkily giving up and then becoming rather aggressive – but at the time of the offence our lot were already leading, had missed multiple chances and were noticeably sharper in almost every area.

That said, the AANP view was that there could have been few complaints had Lamela also seen red. Presumably he didn’t because he struck the throat, whereas the other lad struck the face; and if countless John Grisham novels have taught me anything it’s that the devil is in the detail in these legal matters.

I suspect that not even the most committed United fan could ignore the irony of complaining about a harsh refereeing decision at Old Trafford, but there can be little doubt that our lot benefited a tad from this one (on almost the exact spot at which a missed handball allowed United to score past Heurelho Gomes several years back).

While the Sky studio pundits were racing through the various stages of grief at the whole spectacle, I did rather wonder what Our Glorious Leader made of Lamela’s sudden surrender to the charms of gravity.

One could be forgiven for having missed it, as it was not particularly widely publicised, but a certain channel recently aired a documentary of behind-the-scenes footage from N17, which was in places at least, eye-opening stuff. At one point, which does rather stick in the memory, Jose requested his troops – using the sort of fruity language that would make the elderly swoon, I don’t mind telling you – that they needed to be less courteous in how they went about things. Less pleasant. More unbecoming.

And so, when Lamela took his unseemly tumble, while hardly applauding the young bean, I did wonder if this were evidence of precisely that sort of uncouth stuff that Jose had craved. A small step, one might suggest, on the road to increasing the general savviness about the place – and maybe even winning a trophy?

There were plenty of other positives, and plenty of other highlights (Maguire hauling down Luke Shaw for the first goal; the sight of United players careering off into the wrong postcode every time Ndombele executed a turn; the fake crowd booing off United at half-time). Ultimately however, this has turned into one of our greatest weeks in recent memory. Bumping Chelsea out of the Carabao Cup; securing the Europa group stage with seven goals in the process; signing a striker of all things – and now sticking six past United at their own place.

How does one sum up that sort of narrative? Lads, it’s Tottenham.

Spurs 1-1 Man Utd: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. The Negative Mentality

Good heavens this ghastly dirge is too much to stomach. One understands that there’s a time and a place for the gung-ho “If you score four we’ll just biff up the pitch and score five” approach, but this new normal – of low possession, sitting deep and simply attempting to soak up pressure from first whistle to last – is laying it on a bit thick.

One presumes that once Bill Nick and Danny Blanchflower made it past the pearly gates they got stuck into the entertainment on offer and had a whale of a time, not bothering to check back over their shoulders to monitor goings-on at N17 – but if they did happen to glance back one can only imagine how unrecognisable this rot might appear to them.

“The game is about glory, it is about doing things in style and with a flourish, about going out and beating the other lot, not waiting for them to die of boredom.”

The aforementioned memo evidently did not make it to the Mourinho inbox. Instead we’re stuck with this dreadful imitation of Sven’s England, persisting with the ludicrous notion that football is a game best played by allowing the opposition to have the ball for as long as they please, of all absurd notions, providing that there are enough last-ditch limbs around to prevent them from scoring.

Any display of attacking intent was strictly an afterthought – and the longer the game wore on the more unlikely these became anyway, for even when we tried to pass our way forward rather than blasting it into orbit, we simply did not have enough troops stationed in attack, every man and his dog having been dragged back into the final third for defensive drills ad infinitum.

A point from yesterday’s game was certainly a good result, but if this is to be the go-to approach – and it is – frankly I would rather we had lost while playing with more ambition.

No doubt we will nick the odd game by the skin of teeth and against the run of play – witness the home win vs Man City pre-lockdown – but, without wanting to sound too dramatic, this business of simply surrendering possession and inviting the other lot to have a go for 90 straight minutes saps the will to live.

2. Kane Fitness

It came as little surprise to note that Harry Kane barely registered his presence throughout proceedings, given that the young nib typically needs half a dozen games to build up a head of steam.

On the rare occasions the ball sailed through his sphere of influence he duly trotted out his impression of one trudging through quicksand, all notions of him bursting into a blur of acceleration kept well under lock and key.

Not that I’m criticising the chap particularly, for he was hardly the only one who seemed taken by surprise by the fact that an actual game of football was happening around him, but I think we had all sneakily hoped that having recovered from injury Kane might already have been in peak condition and straining at the leash.

His lack of match sharpness should, in theory, present a conundrum of sorts, as the only way in which he can attain the aforementioned MS is by obediently trotting out one game after another, which is far from ideal when the engine is yet to rev up. However, in practice it’s no conundrum at all, as omitting this particular slab of meat is clearly not an option.

3. Everyone Else’s Fitness

As mentioned, Kane was not the only soul who seemed not to be up with current affairs.

The dashing, breezy Sonny of yesteryear was replaced by a sullen twin. While seeming to give brief consideration to forward bursts whenever he received the ball, after a short conflab of the voices in his head he appeared repeatedly to conclude that discretion beat valour hands down each time, and Walking Football was the order of the day.

Winks and Sissoko seemed similarly invisible for much of the evening, which I suppose had much to do with the fact that, rather than being in possession of the ball, they spent most of the game dutifully chasing the shadows of United players as they pinged the thing one way and another. Both intermittently flitted into view, in the manner of one who, when working from home, sends an occasional calculated email to remind The Boss of their existence, but in general each was a model nonentity, and seemed perfectly content with the label.

4. Lamela

Young Lamela occasionally caught the eye by virtue of being marginally less average than the rest of the mob, at least in intent, if not end-product.

It is generally a pretty reliable bet that he will be cautioned within fifteen minutes of entering the fray, and while he avoided that fate yesterday this was as much due to the random goodwill of the chief arbiter of proceedings, rather than any restraint on Lamela’s part. He seems always to scoot around with the air of one who has been wronged and is therefore determined to have a petulant kick at anyone who wafts into his vicinity.

This is mildly preferable to the meek and mild approach of far too many in lilywhite over the years, for it at least suggests that he cares a jot or two, so I rather welcomed the sight of his pointless snaps and nibbles yesterday.

Generally however, it was all to little avail. When his energy gave him the opportunity to affect the game in a more productive way, he repeatedly failed to deliver the right ball, and one wondered if the technical bods had at their fingertips the sound effects of the White Hart Lane groan.

Lamela would do well to take a leaf out of the Bergwijn book of end products – but one suspects he will have to do so pretty swiftly, for it can only be a matter of time before Our Glorious Leader beats the attacking vim and verve out of Bergwijn, and has him gloomily ceding possession and backing off into a defensive template like everyone else.

5. Son’s Corners

But on a pleasing note, Son’s corners are a dashed sight better than the bizarrely inept dross that Christian Eriksen used to purvey, Son’s having the distinct virtue of reaching beyond the body-parts of the nearest defender. So maybe there is hope in this brave new world after all. Huzzah!

Spurs 0-1 Man Utd: Four Tottenham Observations

1. A Heartening Performance

Curses are naturally flowing pretty liberally around the white half of north London, but here at AANP Towers we’re actually sipping the early-evening double whisky with a generous dollop of equanimity.

The wound of defeat obviously cuts deep, and so on and so forth – but after the laboured 90 minutes against Chelsea, and a first half here in which there was a collective air of legs ploughing through quicksand, I was actually pleasantly surprised by the rip-roaring stab of things made by our heroes in the second half.

No doubt about it, every lilywhite out there this afternoon looked utterly drained – and have done for a few weeks now – and I’m pretty sure I saw several of them being scooped up off the turf and carried off at the denouement.
Yet despite that, we kept beavering, making enough presentable chances to win a couple of games and frankly appeared to have a few bursts more energy than our opponents who were supposedly freshly sunned and rested.

Moreover, I was secretly rather chuffed that we kept our heads and continued to probe in those closing stages, rather than blindly whacking the thing north and offering up prayers. Up against a deep United defence-and-midfield I had wondered in the first half how the devil we were supposed to break them down at all. As it happened we did so on around a dozen occasions in the second half alone.

2. Our Finishing. Too Close To The Keeper, Don’t You Think?

Bunting is being decked and champagne sprayed around the United keeper, and one understands the sentiment, for the chap wasn’t allowed to catch his breath before sticking out another limb and keeping the good ship Hotspur at bay.

And far be it for me to deny the fellow his fifteen minutes, but I can’t help thinking we made his job a heck of a lot easier by firing most of those shots within his wingspan.

I trust my public will forgive me if I don’t list and analyse each individual chance separately, as I’m not sure the abacus has been invented that can track that sort of thing, but certainly both Kane and Dele shot at him rather than the corners when clean through, and one or two of the other less straightforward opportunities might also have been more emphatically tucked away.

Just one of those things I suppose. On another day – and there have been several of them in the past month alone – we might have hit the corners and been four or five up. Such is the rummy nature of life.

3. Poch’s Tactical Switch

And while immersing ourselves in rather pointless crumbs of comfort, a begrudging nod in the vague direction of Our Glorious Leader. One of the few sticks with which the sunny chap is ever beaten is his perceived inability to roll up his sleeves midway through a game and do some first-rate tinkering.

Come half-time today however, and with the likeliest form of attack having thus far been The Hopeful Alderweireld Punt, Poch duly tinkered away like the best of them, and produced more of a 4-2-3-1, of sorts.

Now the prosecution might well make the point that his hand was rather forced by the injury to Sissoko pretty much bang on half-time, and a jolly compelling point it would be too. I’m nevertheless inclined to give Poch the benefit of the doubt however, for he might have stuck with the midfield diamond and watched on gloomily.

Instead, Sonny went left, Davies was kept firmly under lock and key within the back-four – where many a cynic might observe he is far better placed – Eriksen sat deeper, and the outlook pretty instantly became a heck of a lot sunnier.

4. Squad Depth (Lack Thereof)

As alluded to above, one can only really applaud the efforts of the chaps out on the pitch, who appeared pretty much to use up their final bubbles of oxygen and every last ounce of energy in hammering away at the United door.

The unhappy fact remains, however, that the slew of crunch fixtures shows neither sign of abating nor adopting any less crunch. On top of which, the cast members themselves are now, rather inevitably, beginning to drop like flies.

The hooking of Sonny for yet another international tournament seems rather heartless, as he’s only just got over the jet-lag from the previous one, but into every life some rain must fall I suppose.

The injuries are just a plain nuisance, and no less annoying for being so utterly predictable. Winks and Sissoko seem to have partnered each other for around a dozen games in a row, so the sight of muscles twanging away mid-game was greeted with as many philosophical shrugs as gloomy grimaces.

Kane also seemed to exit the stage in far worse health than he entered, having taken a royal clattering in the dying embers of the game, and with Dier still not fit, Wanyama now just a picture on a Missing Person’s poster, Moura apparently injured and Dembele eyeing up the exit door, the whole carefully constructed and delicately held-together structure does look set to come tumbling down at any point.

Oh that we were minded to shell out a few quid in the transfer market, what? The party line remains that no signings will be made if they cannot improve the starting eleven, which sounds suitably bland and professional; but the argument grows stronger by the day that simply recruiting a few extra bodies of precisely the same quality would be no bad thing, if it allows for one or two of our mob to catch their breath between games.

Frankly there seems to be more chance of the sun exploding, which means we can potentially look forward to Skipp and Winks behind a front two of Lamela and Llorente in weeks to come.

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

Man Utd 0-3 Spurs: Five Tottenham Observations

1. The Starting XI

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

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

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

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

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

2. Kamikaze Start

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

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

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

3. Clinical Finishing. Who Knew?

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

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

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

4. Good Honest Man-Love for Lucas

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

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

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

5. Toby

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

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

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

Man Utd 2-1 Spurs: Five Tottenham Observations

Apologies for ambling in a day late with this missive, you can blame it on the post-prandial snifter, which turned into two or three and a night carousing with the best of them in south London. Yesterday, consequently, I was in no fit state for human consumption, which seemed rather apt given the tame manner in which our season had fizzled out the day before.

1. A Cracking Goal In Every Way Imaginable

And yet things had all kicked off so swimmingly. Admittedly we did not quite repeat the ten-second salvo of a couple of months back, but Kane still managed a neat pirouette and shot before the patrons had taken their seats, and in the opening ten minutes Eriksen and Sonny were bobbing about like they owned the place. In short, we looked every inch the dapper gentlemen ready to tear up the town, and it was little surprise when Dele slid in to bulge the net with such gusto.

A cracking goal from start to finish too, with Davinson Sanchez somehow squaring a circle by making a fairly straightforward route-one punt look something like a thing of beauty. A doff of the cap to Messrs Young and Pogba, for obligingly wafting out of position, but in the blink of an eye defence had become attack, and of all people young Master Eriksen was tearing away.

What followed was good enough to impregnate the watching hordes, because the cross whipped in by Eriksen was an absolute belter. It really deserved to be slapped into the net, and when Dele obliged at a rate of knots, judges throughout the land were scribbling 10s on their scorecards, because in terms of aesthetics the goal was off the charts.

2. An Atrocious Goal in Every Way Imaginable

To describe as a dashed shame the fact that it was pretty swiftly negated does not begin to sum things up. The equaliser was all the more galling for the fact that it was pretty emphatically of our own making, dash it all.
The trouble started when the wretched Vorm needlessly and inexplicably chipped the ball about ten feet above Vertonghen’s head and out of play. His options at the time were manifold, he had time to light a cigar and contemplate his summer hols before acting, and yet he simply blooted the ball out for a throw, level with the edge of his own penalty area.

The ensuing throw-in wibbled its way to the other side of the penalty area, where Dembele took the reins, and one would have expected a healthy period of world peace and prosperity to ensue. Alas, Dembele, in a rare display of mortal frailty – albeit one that lasted pretty much his entire 78-minute stint – chose that moment to throw in a stinker, and with the United end of the pitch beckoning, opted needlessly and inexplicably to dip back towards his own goal, and in doing so pretty much presented the ball to Pogba, gift-wrapped and with a neat bow on top.

Dembele allowed himself to be shoved to ground for good measure, and nobody in our defence was quite ready for the cross which then followed. Credit to the other Sanchez – the rotten one – for a downward header off balance and all sorts, but matters were certainly compounded by Vorm needlessly and inexplicably opting to stand and watch the ball ping past him. The concepts of sticking out a limb or, heaven forbid, launching himself after the thing were a long way down the Vorm agenda. He was of strictly decorative value, and he did not care a jot who knew it.

3. Poch’s Selection Errors: Vorm

Which ties in neatly to the decision to select Vorm instead of Lloris. I understand that Vorm had been the Cup-tie choice, which made some sense when we were mooching around the lower-league teams in the early rounds with bigger fish to fry in Europe and elsewhere. Those were the moments for Walker-Peters, Llorente and Vorm. Understood.

But an FA Cup Semi-Final vs Manchester United is hardly the time for sentiment, what? If ever there were a time to roll up one’s sleeves and say, “Hoy! Time to sharpen the bayonets and go hell for leather, no mistake!” it’s an FA Cup Semi-Final vs Manchester United. And if it hurts the poor lamb’s feelings then I’ll cry a river for him at a later date.

Moreover, on a pedantic note, if the idea were to drop Lloris for these occasions, why was he on the bench? If the chap is in the squad, play him. Admittedly, he has been littering stadia across the land with his mistakes in recent weeks, but if there is one thing he does still do with aplomb it’s pull of a heck of a save. Which would have proved a useful trait as both goals 1 and 2 whistled within clutching distance of the decorative Vorm.

4. Poch’s Selection Errors: Toby Alderweireld

Yes, yes, I understand the principle – mutter about grass being greener elsewhere and you can expect a stint on Poch’s Naughty Step, followed by an undignified elbow off the premises, and our glorious leader has to display consistency and ruthlessness. No “I” in “Team” and all that. But there dashed well is an “I” in “FA Cup Semi-Final vs Manchester United”, and to leave out our best defender – again, in the squad, but on the bench – was a move so petty I wanted to grab the nearest unsuspecting sort and shake him.

He may not be of our gang for much longer, but we still pay the chap his wages, however paltry he may consider them. He is still our player, so why not use him while we can? And while Sanchez has his many, many assets, who amongst us would not feel better with Toby patrolling the back door at night?

Who knows how life might have panned it had Toby played, it is one of life’s great imponderables, but I have a suspicion that for a start he might have made a better fist of things than the two in situ when the cross was swung in for Alexis Sanchez’s header.

5. Killer Instinct (Or Lack Thereof)

The latest media narrative – following on from Totteringham’s Day, the Wembley Curse, beating Top 4 teams away and so on and so forth – is this business of failing to win silverware. And much though I’d have loved a trophy, the opinion at AANP Towers is that Top Four finishes and improvement in the Champions League is indicative of far greater progress than an FA Cup will ever evidence.

The notion of being “Spursy”, “bottling” our operations and so on and so forth also gets wheeled out pretty much whenever we fail to win a game these days, which is simply a cross we have to bear and as much a reflection on a bunch of players long since retired as it is on the current mob.

More pertinently, one thing which sidesteps the use of statistics for one’s own convenience, or historical performances that have little to do with the current day, is the fact that our present lot could show a heck of a lot more red-blooded killer instinct when the chances arise. Against Juve at home, and Man Utd on Saturday – two of the biggest occasions of the season – we were in the ascendancy, created chances a-plenty, but scored just the once and padded away in fairly self-satisfied mood, only for a less expansive but more savvy opponent to pilfer the goods from under our noses.

If these two occasions have taught us anything it ought to be the value of taking what few chances come our way in crunch games. If we’re enjoying a fifteen-minute period of revels and gaiety, let’s score at least twice. If we’re giving an opponent a pummelling, let’s make sure the scoreline reflects it. One gets the gist. These unpretty but effective sides will as likely steal a goal against the run of play, and it is little use bemoaning how well we played and how dominant we were.

And breathe…

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

Spurs 2-0 Man Utd: 5 THFC Observations

1. Perfect Performance, Tens All Round

Well that was an absolute tour de force. It was the sort of pristine performance that the critics shower with praise, and then proceeds to swipe every gong available at the glitzy award bash.

From the rip-snorting first minute to the olé-riddled final few swings, this was about as good it ever gets – and against a mob the statistics suggest know a thing or two about launching a pig’s bladder in between a couple of sticks.

It’s a pretty rare thing that every member of the squadron, to a man, gets an A+ on his report card, but by golly the stars aligned last night. It was ten out of ten stuff all round. Easy to forget, given the carefree manner in which we skipped over the line at 10pm, but Lloris had to make a couple of pretty nifty stretches this way and that in the early exchanges, as well as a smart parry from Lukaku in the second half.

Both centre-backs were on high alert, despite the two-goal cushion, and as if to prove the point each threw in a Moore-esque tackle or two just as the occasional United surge began to look ominous.

And so on. While it is difficult to measure these things objectively, any sound-minded observer would opine that our midfield comfortably had the breeze on theirs, whether it be in the sub-category of muscle, distribution or just haring around the place and rather rudely elbowing others out of the way.

On top of which, any member of our troupe who had the slightest attacking ability demonstrated the stuff in spades. There was an absolute whizz-bang about the quick passing, aided to no small extent by the near-manic off-the-ball movement, and the sum total of it all was a display that bordered on cruelty towards our guests.

2. And Mightily Impressive Off The Ball Too

For all the quick wit and flashing badinage that we displayed in attack, the race was probably won when our lot were not in possession, which I suppose sounds an odd concept, but you get the gist. Every time a United player had the ball he was accosted by a small army of lilywhites invading his personal space, which in some quarters would be considered the height of rudeness, but in this instance was met with absolute roars of approval from the adoring public.

Impressively, the work-rate amped up a few thousand notches in the second half. Instead of showing the slightest hint of fatigue, our heroes appeared to become increasingly rabid, haring after just about anything that moved.
Heaven knows how many Weetabix they each stuffed down their gullets beforehand, but it worked an absolute treat, because as well as the practical benefit of snuffing out United attacks and so forth, the whole exercise also brought about the gradual but immensely gratifying result that the United will to live simply seeped out of them and ceased to be by around the hour mark. That in itself is something about which our lot should trumpet at the next parish meeting.

3. Our Defensive High Line, And Coronary Issues

By the time the final gong sounded and carriages arrived the whole party had a marvellous emphatic ring to it, but in the first twenty or so it was not quite the serene breeze that eventually transpired.

Our early goal was all well and good, but on another day we might have been trailing before the clock had hit double digits, which would have been rather a biff to the solar plexus and left us reeling around like a young buck on his first trip to the pub.

The game was flung absolutely wide open in the first quarter, with both sides looking like they might score every time they attacked. “Barnstorming” might be the word. And, while it’s more of a mouthful, “Something of a dereliction of duty in midfield, old sport,” might also sum up things. Quite the spectacle for the unsuspecting passer-by, I suppose, but for the committed lilywhite the whole thing had us clenching fists in dread of what seemed about to transpire.

The high defensive line did little for the cardio mechanics of watching die-hards either, with United mercifully failing to pick the one weighted pass that would have torn down all the scenery.

And even when we rang them ragged in the second half, the nagging suspicion remained that one United goal would turn the game, if not on its head then at least at a 90 degree angle, which is all you really need to invite trouble these days.

Indeed, had you crept disturbingly close to AANP last night you might have heard the muttered refrain, repeated like some sort of fervent prayer, “Next goal wins”, because 2-0 did not appear a secure scoreline.
Utter rot, as it merrily transpired, but such is the lot of a Spurs fan.

4. A Good Night To Be Kieran Trippier

Singling out one individual for praise feels a bit like complimenting one blade of grass in a particularly lush meadow, but when circumstances are right AANP will swim against the tide, while waving a desultory hand at the naysayers, and as a result I invite Kieran Trippier to take a bow.

Now there’s no doubt that United’s slightly baffling left midfield tactic – of completely abandoning any defensive cover, and leaving Trippier to do as he pleased for 90 minutes – aided the chap, but nevertheless, history is littered with examples of horses being dragged to water and then not touching a drop of the stuff.

Trippier, however, did not need a second invitation. Instead, summoning the ghost of Kyle Walker, the chap hared down the right like it was going out of fashion, and then, as the young folk are wont to do, started exploring all manner of modern and new-fangled approaches, which led to him buccaneering straight down the centre at times, like some modern-day Gascoigne.

It was evidently something in the water, because Vertonghen and Sanchez also struggled to resist the urge, leaving me wondering what it was that prevented Lloris from dribbling beyond halfway and taking three or four United players out of the game en route.

Back to Trippier, and it was a job masterfully done. He was always the spare man, and the width he provided rather cunningly left the United defensive mob scratching their heads as to how to stop the supply chain coming straight down the centre as well as that offered out on the right.

On top of which, his cross for the own-goal was both high in quality and provider of cracking comedy, so well done him.

5. Points For Improvement? On A Night Like That?

In a season in which we have beaten Real Madrid and hammered Liverpool, the locals might stop and stare when I declare that this was our best performance yet. In my defence I would emphasisenthat I was particularly taken with how well we took to the thing both on and off the ball.

That said, there were still points to improve. Dembele bossed the midfield, and was absolutely untouchable in possession; so far, so uncontroversial. Again, United’s curious approach of affording him a running start of around 10 yards was hardly the likeliest means of stopping the chap, but nevertheless there are few players around these days who can so effortlessly protect possession simply because they decide it should be so.

However, his disturbing penchant for being rather slovenly in the tackle once more emerged. Rather than win the ball, these days he simply grabs an opponent by the shoulder before they can hare away from him and yanks them down. It earned him a yellow card fairly early in yesterday’s proceedings, and is inviting trouble more broadly.

Dele Alli also blotted an otherwise outstanding game, not only with the inevitable petulant foul, but also a few moments of over-elaboration in the second half. 2-0 was not the signal to down tools and make merry, so he might have been advised to pick the simple pass rather than blasting crossfield 30 yarders of questionable return on investment.

And finally, having taken such pains to tear United apart, someone at some stage really ought to have applied the coup de grace and put the matter to bed. The second half turned into a litany of chances, but 2-0 it remained.
Which was enough, and bodes well. A point at Liverpool and then another win at home to Arsenal would represent a marvellous couple of weeks’ work, before we knuckle back down to the Champions League.

Man Utd 1-0 Spurs: Five Lilywhite Conclusions

1. A Distinct Lack of Energy

Well I can’t say that did much to whelm me. It’s not yet Christmas and the whole bally season already feels dreadfully flat. Even the 5-0 win last week was an oddly muted affair, with all and sundry still lamenting the Champions League debacle. Today it seemed that our heroes simply turned up and expected to walk off with the thing, with a distinct lack of hum or ding about them.

The peculiar game plan seemed to be to construct a series of pretty triangles between our own goalkeeper and defence, before losing the ball around halfway. To their credit the players seemed to nail this. A triumph of sorts then, but not really of much value in the grand scheme of things when all and sundry return to the ranch and compare notes.

The principle of playing out from the back is of course noble and gallant, but when not a smidgeon of creativity exists further forward one does rather wonder why they bother at all. More often than not it seemed to be left to Dembele and Wanyama to provide the creative spark, but with little movement around them it was a fairly lost cause.

2. Backwards Passing

Eriksen in recent weeks seems to have rediscovered his joie de vivre, and as such we peered eagerly in his direction for a little to joy to spread around the place, but today he seemed content to pass the ball backwards as often as not.

By and large the malady spread throughout the team, only really punctuated by such a bevy of misplaced passes that one wondered if some sort of private, festive game were underway within the dressing-room, in the finest tradition of footballers’ japery. If this were indeed the case then Kane presumably wins for striking the jackpot with a six-yard pass straight to an opponent that set up the winning goal. Bingo.

3. Lamela and the Pressing Game

That inadvertent assist appeared to be one of only a two or three occasions on which Kane touched the ball at all, which summed up the dreary state of things. Both he and Alli seemed to decide that today was absolutely 100% not the day to play the Pochettino high pressing game, and when the two furthest forward scoff at the notion the whole idea rather loses its way.

As such, I suddenly found myself with the most peculiar yearning to see Lamela back on the pitch. The young imp has never exactly proven himself to be a game-changer of the ilk that one would expect for £30 million, but he dashed well knows how to hurtle towards an opponent with the express intention of hurrying him along and breathing down his neck, what?

The absolute archetype of the pressing game was our win against Man City earlier in the season, and in a fixture like today’s, with a chance to put some daylight between ourselves and our nearest challenger, it would have seemed appropriate to replicate that particular formula. Alas not. No Lamela, and little in the way of high-pitch press from Kane, Alli or any of their chums. Instead, a gentle and harmless drift towards defeat.

4. Sissoko, Unlikely Near-Hero

Things perked up briefly around ten minutes into the second half, but by and large there seemed little likelihood of our lot stumbling into parity, until Sissoko of all people tripped over himself and landed on the pitch. To date, Sissoko has come across as a chap who can neither bat, bowl nor keep wicket, if you get my drift, so his introduction did little more than elicit a standard groan or two from the watching faithful.

But I’ll be dashed if the chap didn’t suddenly look the most threatening lilywhite on the pitch. Whether by accident or design is debatable, but as sure as day following night he managed to bundle his way past the full-back every blinking time he touched the thing. Moving like the alien queen in Aliens, all tangled limbs and awkwardness, he suddenly seemed the likeliest route back into the match. While he sits at the opposite end of the spectrum from, say, the silky touch of Son, he has a darned sight more brute force, and today gave an injection of pace and power that had been lacking throughout.

Quite what this means for the future is a little terrifying to contemplate, but after a series of displays that have been comically poor it was nice to see him bulldozing his way forward to some good effect.

5. Strange, Muted Times

It has been such a peculiar season to date that I rather than try to make sense of it I would prefer to pour myself a bourbon and have a lie down. A 5-0 win followed by defeat at Old Trafford is, all things digested, marginally cheerier than the relentless series of draws previously being churned out. The defeat at Chelsea was actually one of our better performances. The Champions League campaign has been as disastrous as these things can get without bursting into flames. What the deuces is it all about?

Shameless Plug Alert – AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes, continues to retail at Amazon and Waterstones, hint hint. One for a Secret Santa, what?

Man Utd 1-0 Spurs: 3 Lilywhite Observations

It’s like the thing never went away. Varying degrees of huff and puff, and a smattering of invention that was far too late to be of any consequence, and without playing particularly well or badly the thing was done.

Midfield

The selection of Dier ahead of Mason was shiny and new, but the headlines were grabbed by Bentaleb’s decision to rock up for work still in sunglasses and flip-flops, Hawaiin shirt on back and the distinct whiff of alcohol on his breath. The cat was out of the bag pretty soon, for while he did his best to keep his head down and mooch around in the shadows, all too often he was thrust into the spotlight, and responded by passing the ball to the nearest man in red. He will have better days – in fact every remaining day of his life is likely to be better – but the euthanasia effected by Pochettino shortly after the break was completely understandable.

A Sorry Ode to Own Goal Perpetrators

Ostensibly the fall-guy, truth be told I felt bundles of sympathy for Master Walker. The galloping young cove as ever gave every ounce of effort, and by and large stomped around to fairly solid effect. One of the few entertaining sub-plots to the piece was the joust between Shaw and Walker, and I rather thought our man edged it, by virtue of his barrel chest and third lung. Whether he was tearing up and back, little legs going like the clappers, or spreading his arms like shields of steel in order to escort the ball safely off the vicinity, he just about seemed to win his little personal mano-e-mano. A shame then, that the whole binge was rendered fairly meaningless by that well-intended but ultimately fatal intervention that decided the thing.

I always feel a twinge of sympathy for any man who pops one into his own net, as he always seems to be an ill-deserving buck. In general, it’s a law of science that if the o.g. perpetrator had not spent all that effort charging into his defensive position, an opposing forward would have had something approximating a tap-in. Today was a case in point, with young Walker angrily sprinting back to make the world right, and duly bustling Rooney aside– only to then do the dastardly himself. On top of which, all manner of patronising epithets and backslaps are then duly administered, as if the chap were a bit simple in the head. The whole string of events made young Walker, already the angriest young man in the Premiership, just about ready to pop in a blur of apoplexy – but such is the unfair lot of the own-goal meister.

The Attacking Quartet

Not sure about this mob. The components seem broadly to make sense – a designated central lump, and three mischievous shysters flitting around behind him – but somehow, rather than seamlessly weave together, all four sat in their own designated spots and did not come within a country mile of clicking.

There’s an untruth actually. In the opening exchanges there were one or two moments, and Eriksen might have done better with that early lob when slipped in with a knowing nod and wink by Kane. By and large, alas, these two, plus Dembele and Chadli, kept to themselves, seemingly content to preen around with the knowledge that they were jolly skilful individuals. The thought of banging heads together to create more than the sum of parts seemed strictly off-limits.

It’s the sort of tragic scenario that makes one find a quiet spot and brood. Dembele, Chadli and Eriksen are each, in their own ways, jolly alluring when they purr into gear, and in Football Manager it would probably work a dream. But in reality, one rather expects the pre-nuptial to be dusted off and popped in the post, if you follow my drift.

If It Were Done When ‘Tis Done

And thus, with all the dark inevitability of a Greek tragedy, we limped off with heads bowed. No shame in it, and no doubt we will bounce back – but already a spot cosily ensconced just outside the Top Four feels like it has been reserved. The result, the performance, the general gist of being not quite good enough suggests that the Spurs we know and love is all revved up and ready to trundle.

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

Spurs 0-0 Man Utd: Turning Luck Into An Art Form

Somebody somewhere once warbled to the effect that if you can play badly and still win then you must be doing something right in the small print. Now the eagle-eyed amongst you will no doubt have spotted that on this occasion we did not actually win, but a few days earlier against Leicester we did, after an eminently forgettable performance, and yesterday we could perhaps be described to have hung about gamely.

The point, which admittedly I have deviated from by a good few hundred yards, is that I am feeling rather heartened by recent events. Heartened in a guilty way, ‘tis true, because if it wasn’t Vertonghen scything down an opponent in the area and walking away scott-free it was the finest forwards money can assemble suddenly losing control of their lower limbs when two yards from goal with ball at feet. On top of which, you couldn’t move for opponents slamming the ball against Hugo’s woodwork with gay abandon. And a propos Monsieur Lloris, the chap has yet again been forced to leap around like a man possessed to keep the good ship Hotspur afloat, despite the seemingly porous framework upon which it is built.

But heartened I am. A string of wins, followed by a point against Man Utd, is not to be sniffed at, no matter how much one picks it up, inspects it and points accusingly at it. Points are points, and while few will suggest that we are now ready for a title-tilt, most would presumably agree that somewhere or other behind the scenes some good work is being done.

There is no disputing that we have not just ridden our luck but have enjoyed a trip in luck’s first-class cabin, complete with complimentary champagne served by a sultry hostess. No real disputing that one. No sir. I suppose it helps even out the dodgy penalty decisions of earlier in the season (Man City and Liverpool, to name a couple).

However, on a more constructive note, much has been made of the fact that our heroes seem to have an extra bit of puff in their lungs these days, and well does it serve us. The last-minute goals seem too frequent to be entirely down to chance, and in the closing moments of yesterday’s game we had not just stirred into life but seemed positively the likelier to win the thing, so three cheers for Pochettino’s beep test, or whatever method the coaching team use these days.

Individual Performances

The tinkering by Pochettino was understandable enough in principle, albeit a little ineffective in practice. The choice of Davies and Chiriches as full-backs in place of Rose and Walker was presumably effected with the dual purpose of giving the latter two a moment to catch their breath, following return from injury, as well as stifling the Man Utd wing-backs. Alas, Messrs Valencia and Young could be described as many things yesterday, but not, truthfully, ‘stifled’. Still, this being our lucky month and all, that was soon taken care of when Valencia disappeared stage right and Rafael-Or-Fabio took his place.

The rarely-sighted Townsend was given a gambol, and beavered away as is his wont, all enthusiasm and willing, and precious little product. I suspect I am in a minority but I like the chap, for he permanently seems to be one smidgeon away from being quite the game-changer. The dinked pass to Kane early on, a sturdy long-range shot in the second half – the law of averages suggests that sooner or later he is going to spend the full 90 minutes absolutely destroying a team single-handedly. I just get the feeling that this will happen after we have sold him.

Typical fare from Mason and Stambouli, the former’s performance encapsulated by that late miss, when he showed all the energy of a young hyperactive puppy to race half the length of the pitch before displaying that absence of top-notch class, in blazing the ball over. Stambouli did everything one would expect of a first-reserve, and the pair of them together generally struggled to prevent the all-singing, all-dancing cast of United midfield talent from pouring forward, particularly in the first half. Not really a criticism, as they were outnumbered, and frankly up against far better players.

But that marvellous combination of willing and luck got us to the finish line, rounding off what on paper looks a pretty darned impressive month’s work. Another seductive smile or two from Lady Luck on 1 Jan against Chelski would go down mightily well.

Man Utd 1-2 Spurs: The Sublime, The Less Sublime & The Ironic

In this part of the interweb nothing really set the juices flowing like a perfectly-weighted diagonal pass that rips open a defence like a dismembered carcass. If it is played inside the full-back so much the better, and if, on top of all of the above, it is threaded through the legs of a defender en route to its destination, then it jolly well deserves a bonus point.

On which note, Señor Soldado can take a bow. The ball may bounce uncontrollably of the wrong limb whenever he gets within spitting distance of the net, but if ever a pass deserved to be dressed up in a tux and immaculate bow-tie, given a full two minutes applause and awarded a shiny statuette it was Soldado’s in the first half to set up Lennon for his early one-on-one.

While wittering on about the forward line, Adebayor, it seems, continues to eat his five a day, and another rip-roaring performance ensued. Whether holding up the ball, taking on Wayne Rooney of all people in a mano-e-mano tussle by our own corner flag or showing his contempt for that old gravity malarkey by hanging in the air for nigh on a minute and a half in order to head home our first, the chap bounded around with absolute lashings of verve and eagerness. Oh that the secret to his enthusiasm could be bottled and recycled on a weekly basis.

Elsewhere on the spectrum stretching from Most Welcome to Dashed Infuriating striking performances was young Harry Kane. He may fit into his lilywhite shirt like a steroid-enhanced oak tree but there the similarity with Monsieur Drogba ends. In his defence, Master Kane was almost certainly put through a condensed army boot-camp session during half-time, as that would reasonably explain why the lad looked absolutely shattered from the moment he puffed on to the moment he panted off at the final whistle, presumably just seconds before collapsing in a muscular heap in the tunnel. With fresh legs needed to hold up our attacking play and chase down every United defender in sight, Kane seemed to spend his minutes treading through wet concrete. (Although the moment when he stood offside and deliberately whacked the ball into the crowd did make me chortle.)

T’Other End of the Pitch

Hats tipped at a jaunty angle to the defence – and their chums from elsewhere – for holding firm in that nervy final quarter. Ranting about Dawson’s footballing prowess or lack thereof comes about as naturally to yours truly as letting the eyes glaze over and humming the theme to Beverly Hills Cop while the various marvellous womenfolk in my life rant about my lack of attention or some such thing, but if our intrepid skipper does one thing well it is put his body on the line for a humdinger of a backs-to-the-wall defensive effort. Defending deep removes from the equation his ‘pace’, and lets him get on with the meaty business of repelling the myriad crosses and shots fired in, and thus did he strain the sinews with gay old abandon for the cause.

None of which was quite enough to detract from the shortcomings of the boy Rose, who dribbled into trouble, was effortlessly dribbled past or misplaced his passes with fairly metronomic regularity. Meanwhile the jury remains in a quandary over Chiriches, who mixes sterling interventions with moments of thinking himself the Romanian Pele and trying to dribble past everyone in sight. The midfield seemed well drilled however, each seeming to pick the right moment to bomb forward and the right moment to roll up sleeves and muck in.

There is a growing sentiment that Lloris has not quite been the same dapper chap he once was since getting that clout on the head, and there was certainly a hairy moment when he gave a Gallic shrug and opted to flatten deserving miscreant Ashley Young. However, one cared rather little about this by the end of proceedings as he flung himself hither, thither and every point in between in order to repel our hosts, antics that were probably worth a hat-trick, if you get my drift.

A 100% Record in 2014

So far things are bright and beautiful on the good ship Sherwood. The 4-4-2 selection at the outset certainly gained a nod of admiration from these quarters, for showing, if nothing else, a willingness to live by the sword, even if carnage did appear to beckon, but for an hour or so we played a mighty impressive counter-attacking game, preventing United from fashioning any particularly straightforward chances while carving open a clutch of glorious ones ourselves. Things certainly took a wobbly swerve after United pulled back their goal, but all’s well etc. The only shame was that the delicious irony, of the big decisions going against United at Old Trafford, appeared to be lost on the humourless chappie manning their helm.

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