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Spurs match reports

Brentford 0-0 Spurs: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Matty Cash (Stay With Me Here)

When Mother Nature was fashioning right wing-backs I fancy she sneaked off for a few minutes away from prying eyes, to surreptitiously create a red herring in amongst the quality stock, because Emerson Royal may have his talents (a debatable point, come to think of it) but wing-backery is not one of them. In fact, I’m still not convinced that this man is actually a professional footballer, in terms of the fine print and T’s and C’s. And yet history will record that this utter charlatan thrice appeared for Barcelona, which if nothing else goes to show what sorcery a cunning football agent is capable of.

To the surprise of no-one Emerson was at it again on Saturday, charging into cul-de-sacs like a toddler thrilling at a new game, and taking every available opportunity to make a pig’s ear of things when in possession.

There’s a broken record resounding with the four walls of AANP Towers, which continually belts out the refrain that for Conte’s system to work it blasted well needs a pair of pretty inspired wing-backs. Until Christian Eriksen returns we’re certainly not going to set any pulses racing in central midfield, where Messrs Hojbjerg and Bentancur are unfailingly polite and diligent, but respond with rather blank looks and the offer of a sideways pass when asked to create something. As such, the burden of expectation falls on those patrolling the flanks.

And this is where that pest Matty Cash lumbers into view, because until he took it upon himself to fling his entire body-weight at the knee of Matt Doherty a few weeks back, our lot could go about their 9-to-5 with at least one semi-decent wing-back in the ranks. Doherty seemed to have read the manual and got the gist of where to be and when. Even though, curiously, crossing the thing was never too high on his To-Do list, he still had enough good sense to plant himself in helpful attacking spots about the place.

Emerson, by contrast, is cursed with an inability to contribute helpfully to attacking matters – which to be honest, quite likely stems from his underlying inability to contribute helpfully to footballing matters more generally.

So when attempts to weave pretty meticulous routes straight down the centre came to naught, hopeful looks were cast towards the flanks for a spot of timely inspiration, only for those looks to fall upon Emerson Royal and become infused with a few shades of anguish.

Nor did the other flank bring a more productive harvest, being populated by young Sessegnon, who appears still petrified of his own shadow. All of which leaves me cursing with a great deal of spirit that damned Matty Cash (and, for good measure, Steven Gerrard, still hoovering up the goodwill around the place from his playing career to get away with such uncouth tactics as a manager). The Woolwich would do well to reward both with a handsome chunk of the winnings should they make the CL spot, because the absence of Doherty, while not the sole factor, has caused the whole operation to sag a bit.

2. Plan A

As alluded to above, the well of central midfield invention, if not quite bone dry, was certainly not threatening to spill over at the sides on Saturday.

That said, I’m not one to slap on the sackcloth and ashes and start bleating that our heroes simply moped about the place without caring a hang for matters of the turf. That was their domain last weekend vs Brighton. On Saturday vs Brentford, investment was at least made in the concept of prising out a chance.

The flanks were pretty derelict, arid territories, but our lot did have a couple of stabs at that business of quick, one-touching passing straight through the middle. And a chief inspector of such things might note that these endeavours met with some success. On a couple of occasions we successfully transferred the orb from circa. centre circle to circa. oppo penalty area with minimal oppo interference.

The problem was that by the time we hit oppo p.a. the whole operation ground to a halt, as we discovered that Brentford had populated the place with about fifty of their finest, and every possible avenue for entry was sealed off.

And that was pretty much the beginning, middle and end of Plan A. There was simply no way through via the centre, and our wing-backs were too dashed gormless to conjure up anything out east or out west.

3. Plan B

With Plan A thus fizzling out pretty much upon take-off, one could not impress enough upon our heroes the importance of a sturdy and viable Plan B, the sort that would force the Brentford mob to reconsider their lot in life and conjure up chances from new and exciting angles.

Unfortunately, while the theory of Plan B was sound, the reality of Plan B hit upon a pretty sizeable flaw, of the existential variety, in that it didn’t actually exist.

It’s difficult to say where the blame lies for this. Certainly the obvious direction for the accusatory finger to point is that of Our Glorious Leader, he being the nib tasked with devising such ruses. Conte appears very much a creature of tactical habit, wedded not only to his wing-backed 3-4-3, but also to pretty much an identical XI every week, if availability allows.

However, having played two games without registering a shot on target one might reasonably suggest that opponents are starting to get the hang of The Conte Way and, worse, finding ways to neuter it. And this, surely, is where the Big Cheese earns his monthly envelope, shrugging his shoulders at the unfortunate fate of Plan A and unveiling with a flourish some dastardly Plan B – and, ideally, also Plans C, D and E for good measure, if he is really in the mood.

Instead, Conte seems at as much of a loss as the rest of us, if the 3-4-3 and identical XI aren’t delivering the goods.

Now strictly speaking, if recording these musings under oath I would be in a bit of a spot, because this is a mild untruth. Cast your mind back to the rip-snorting draw with Liverpool back in December, and Conte lined up our heroes in a 5-3-2, to pretty decent effect when one takes all things into account.

These days however, Conte’s gambling blood doesn’t really extend much beyond flinging on Lucas for a ten-minute scamper and possibly Bergwijn in the dying embers of added time, neither of which really tear up the manual and indicate a wild and daring inversion of tactics.

Aside from Conte, I suppose one might direct a chastising poke of the ribs towards the actual players themselves, they being the souls in most direct command of proceedings. One never really feels comfortable attributing to footballers the capacity of enlightened thought and ingenuity, so it is perhaps asking a bit much of them to fix the tactical machinery mid-game. However, while it would be nice to see, unfortunately beyond Kane dropping into his little holes the market for such in-game player spontaneity is pretty much closed.

The alarming thing is that with only a handful of games left and precious little scope for further dropped points, we need a few viable alternatives and pronto. Actually, the alarming thing is the failure to hit a bally shot on target in two games, but you appreciate the forward-looking concern too.

4. Eriksen’s Corners

Of course, all such miseries and concerns rather faded away when one drank in the sight of Christian Eriksen treading the boards again, and long may he continue to do so.

His touch remains in pretty decent working order, and I noted with interest that the data bods awarded him the rosette for Most Distance Covered, which is the sort of stat that will do no harm to the Returning To Spurs rumours.

Back in his lilywhite days, my main gripe with the chap was that he tended to deliver his wizardry in fits and starts, flitting around the periphery of the match for much of it, rather than wading around knee-deep in the stuff from first whistle to last, as a man of his talent ought. Whether he is therefore the solution to our ills is debatable – although his advocates would make the pretty reasonable point that with him pottering around the midfield it is unlikely that we would go two games without a shot on target.

But aside from all that, what really caught the eye was the sight of him pinging corners and free-kicks about the place like a chap who’d been blessed with such ability since childhood.

Much has been made of the fact that three first-half corners were delivered pretty much on a sixpence to Toney at the far post. Anyone within earshot of AANP as these sailed over would have recoiled at the coarse and earthy language being gaily splashed around the place, such was my disgust at the complete abandonment of marking duties displayed by Sonny on these occasions, he evidently not being the sort for any of that enlightened thought or ingenuity I mentioned earlier (or even the plain common sense to spot the same thing happening and act upon it at the third time of asking).

However, the more charitable pundits about the place chose instead to focus their energies upon a spot of good old-fashioned sycophancy at Eriksen and his set-piece delivery, and I must admit that I did give it an eye. It was all the more remarkable to me, however, because one of the abiding memories of the chap’s final season in N17 was his bizarre inability to deliver a decent set-piece. It was quite the curiosity that so many of his corners would skim along the turf and straight to the first defender, incurring some early variations of that coarse and earthy language.

On Saturday, however, set-piece delivery appeared, once again, to have become his speciality, and it dashed well near enough sank us, leading to two rattles of the frame and one off-the-line clearance.

So much for Eriksen, and good luck to the honest fellow. As for our lot, one heck of an upturn is needed, and pronto, because this thing is slipping away. Strictly speaking it does remain in our hands – win all remaining fixtures, including the North London derby, and fourth is ours – but for any of the above to materialise, on-pitch matters need some pretty immediate and effective surgery.

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Spurs match reports

Spurs 0-1 Brighton: Three Tottenham Talking Points

1. Midfield Distribution

After games such as this one can pretty much close the eyes and point a moody finger in any direction, and one will hit upon a failing. And on Saturday one such failing was the complete absence of interest in attacking play from those dozing away in central midfield.  

What struck me as particularly galling was that the business of playing the ball from defence to attack was not one of those disasters beset in problems from start to finish. It was not one of those tragedies in which the knowledgeable onlooker can spot from a mile away that the whole scheme is destined for failure as soon as it begins. At various points during the game, the beginning of our play-ball-from-defence-to-attack strategy was actually pretty neat and tidy stuff.

For a start, any sniff of danger from what masqueraded as the Brighton high-press around our area was swatted away pretty dismissively. The control of possession demonstrated by Hugo, the three centre-backs and any kindly wing-back who happened to be passing by, was of sufficient quality to sidestep any hint of trouble around our own net. Manoeuvring the ball from A to B – with A being the feet of Hugo and B the feet of anyone else in lilywhite – was an operation for which our lot demonstrated all the requisite levels of competence.

So far, so good. Our lack of a single shot on target could not be pinned upon any perceived difficulties in emerging unscathed from our own penalty area.

At this point, however, the plan started spouting leaks. The challenge seemed to be not so much the risk of losing possession in our own defensive third, as much as the conundrum of how to do anything meaningful with it, at the same point on the map.

In recent weeks, Hojbjerg and, in particular, Bentancur and Kane, have attracted their fair share of awe-struck gazes through the ability casually to flick a ball first-time around the corner, and into space up the flanks for one of the attacking cohort to gallop after. As well as being the sort of scenic stuff one could bring a picnic to watch, such first-time flicks have had the pragmatic advantage of turning the narratives completely on their head, leaving opposition defenders galloping back towards their own goal and pulled apart in all sorts of directions.

And yet on Saturday, of those first-time flicks there was no sign. Instead, both Bentancur and Hojbjerg (Kane having been muzzled by that Bissouma fellow, who I’m sure would look fetching in white upper garments come August) seemed entirely preoccupied with the notion that if anything good were to come of things it would have to have its genesis in a first-time backwards pass. No matter the coordinates, or time of day, or any other consideration of external circumstance: first-time backwards passes had been adopted as the panacea for all ills, and any other consideration was tossed aside.

Now I’m all for the practice of one passing the way they are facing. If anything, I consider it a somewhat neglected art. At the appropriate time and in the appropriate place, few things in life can top a swift nudge of the ball backwards by a fellow who has his back to goal and senses opponents hunting him down. Done in suitable conditions, it can be precisely what the doctor ordered, throwing opponents off the scent and ensuring quick movement of the ball.

But note well the preamble: “in suitable conditions’; “the appropriate time”; and “appropriate place”. All key components, and yet merrily ignored by our heroes, who seemed to think that the backwards-pass routine was such a good yarn they should thrust it into the heart of whatever was happening, irrespective of whether the circumstances required it or not.

While the occasional backward pass can be a ripping little gag, doing it every dashed time one receives the ball starts to make the regulars raise an eyebrow and wonder if all is well at HQ.

While I appreciate that it is difficult to flick around a corner when everyone in lilywhite is static and all Brighton-folk are already in position and set, there were nevertheless opportunities to start attacks, when Brighton had committed numbers up the pitch. On such occasions, some effort had gone into bypassing the Brighton press, and finally the ball was funnelled up to Bentancur and Hojbjerg (and occasionally Son), with the stage set for them to ping the ball into the spaces ahead for attacking sorts to run onto – and instead they simply bunged the thing back into defence again, and everyone in Brighton colours re-took their sentry positions.

It was as if they considered that a quick shove of the ball back towards goal were some sort of triumph in itself, and once completed they could consider their jobs done for the day.

I suppose there are multiple contributory factors here, but from the AANP viewpoint our lot seemed to be missing one heck of a trick. Instead of zipping up the pitch, all in lilywhite ponderously rolled the ball around the halfway line, and by the time last orders were called it was little wonder that we had not managed a single shot on target.

2. The Absence of Doherty

I once heard a pretty ripping gag about chickens and eggs, the nub of which was to speculate as to which arrived on the scene first, which, when you stop to consider it, starts to make the mind swim a bit. I was reminded of this when trying to fathom the root of our problems on Saturday, because on the one hand, as documented above, our midfield mob appeared in no mood to set in motion anything of attacking promise – but on the other hand I did wonder if this might be because the supporting cast were neglecting their duties.

In recent weeks, Master Doherty has carried himself full of buck and vim, taking every opportunity to chip in with his tuppence worth on the right flank, and indeed infield from said flank. He, and whichever less talented equivalent has been patrolling the left flank, have been key components of our attacking apparatus. The front three have hogged headlines and statistics, but the two wing-backs have quietly been going about the place adding meat to things.

The absence of Doherty has now coincided with a game in which we have failed to strike a bally shot on target, which might sound like a spot of AANP amateur dramatics, but, rather disturbingly, is a statement of fact. And the point I’m driving at is to speculate as to whether the two are in some way causally linked.

Certainly, Doherty’s replacement, Emerson Royal, seemed in customary fashion to offer all the on-pitch value of a mannequin, making himself visible without contributing anything of the slightest value. However, it should be noted that on the other flank Senor Reguilon was similarly impotent – and frankly neither did any of the front three display the necessary wit or intelligence to escape the beady Brighton eyes upon them and enjoy a spot of freedom in the attacking third.

So to castigate Emerson in this instance might be a touch rough. Doherty, for all we know, might similarly have laboured pointlessly.

But nevertheless, I rather considered that if the central midfield consists of Hojbjerg and Bentancur – a couple of lads with plenty going for them, but not the fellows you’d back to create twenty goals a season – then your wing-backs are going to deliver some pretty special stuff going forward. And this was precisely the sort of prime fare that Doherty had been spewing forth until having his knee rearranged last week.

To suggest that Doherty has become the most important player in our setup would be laying it on rather too thick, but he was starting to look a pretty important sort of bean in the whole mechanism. One can only hope that Saturday’s ills were indicative of a wider – and isolated – malaise, rather than due to the absence of Doherty and Doherty alone.

3. Hojbjerg

Possibly not the sort of suggestion that will have the paying public hoisting me on their shoulders and sending down the ticker-tape, but in the absence of anyone else dangling a remarkable foot, I thought that P-E H Esq. at least had the decency to suggest he cared about things.

As ventured above, his tendency always to biff the ball back to Romero or Dier upon receipt had me banging the head against whichever wall fancied it, but as the game wore on and most of our lot stubbornly refused to give a damn, I did at least admire the fact that he did not simply slump his shoulders and slink off into the shadows.

In the final knockings, he and he alone could be seen diving into tackles, and, despite the above character assassination built entirely upon his insistence on passing backwards, he did eventually get the gist of things and try to carry the ball forwards once or twice as close of play beckoned.

Hojbjerg is actually a curious egg in that it becomes harder with each passing week fully to grasp what he does. There is a danger that he might simply turn into this season’s Joe Hart, viz. a man of limited playing talent whose principal role seems to be to shout at people. He does not possess either energy, passing ability, tackling ability, dribbling ability or any other ability – bar shouting at people – that really catches the eye, and as such there is a sense that he is merely keeping a seat warm for young Master Skipp.

And yet he fits rather neatly within the Conte system, by virtue of knowing how both to patrol in front of the back-three and ward off foes, and how to collect the ball from the back-three and shovel it along, albeit usually unadventurously. (He does occasionally demonstrate an appetite for an effective forward pass, but these are generally filed under ‘Exception’ rather than ‘Rule’.)

However, given that everyone around him was determined simply to mope about the place until they could scuttle off down the tunnel, Hojbjerg can, if he fancies, treat himself to the AANP going for the day, by dint of his perspiration rather than inspiration. And that rather sad state of affairs neatly captures the whole performance.

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Spurs match reports

Spurs 5-1 Newcastle: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. Doherty

Having spent the last couple of years drooping his frame and acting like the whole football lark is a new one on him, in the last few weeks Matt Doherty has ripped off the mask to reveal that all along he was actually one of the better right wing-backs around.

It therefore seemed pretty cruel to react to the absence of Reguilon and Sessegnon by shoving him in at left wing-back. I mean, really. He’s only just found his feet, and now we jab a finger at him and say, “But can you do it on the left-hand side?”

On top of which, the re-jig meant that Emerson Royal and his mobile clown show was the custodian on the right. Moving our one decent wing-back to an alien position, in order to accommodate an infinitely less competent wing-back, seemed rather knuckle-headed thinking to me. As our heroes lined up at kick-off, I chewed a pretty nervous lip.

As it turned out, the one Johnnie completely unflustered by all this behind-the-scenes complexity was Doherty himself. These days it seems he wakes up each morning convinced he’s some distant relative of Pele, and not giving too many damns which flank he’s asked to patrol.

It actually works to Doherty’s advantage that he’s not really one for whipping in crosses all day and night. As far as Doherty is concerned, a wing-back’s job is to make himself available at various points up the flank, and indeed further infield, popping short passes to chums who fizz around nearby.

‘Interplay’ seems to be the anthem on Doherty’s lips, with ‘Whipped Crosses’ coming a long way down his list. And this being the case, it doesn’t really matter if he’s on his weaker foot, because even the weakest limb going will not stop a man adopting useful positions and dabbing handy five-yard passes that keep attacks healthily ticking along.

Our opening goal (the Ben Davies header) was a case in point. Naturally, much has been made of Sonny’s whipped cross for that goal, but rewind a good minute or so, and the corner was earned after Sonny went on the gallop from circa halfway to circa the six-yard box; and (stay with me here) rewind a further ten seconds or so and, crucially, this gallop would not have happened but for a perfectly-weighted, first-time, half-volleyed cushioned pass from Doherty.

For context, immediately prior to this, Romero and Lloris had been rolling the ball left and right to no real purpose, before the latter punted it upfield in the general direction of Doherty. Until then our entire game had been characterised by the absence of quick, forward-thinking distribution. Doherty’s first-time pass to Son admittedly did not look like much at the time, but I’d suggest that it was precisely the sort of injection of urgency we’d been begging for.

Admittedly I suppose we could keep on rewinding indefinitely, and count our lucky stars that the game kicked off at all, but having kept a pretty beady eye on Doherty and his left-sided escapades I clocked this one with approval.

As if to hammer home the point that being right-footed is neither here nor there if you tick all the other left wing-back boxes, Doherty then popped up with a goal at the far post, which is the sort of good habit to be encouraged in any wing-back, and even followed it up with some jiggery-pokery to set up Emerson to clown-shoe in our third.

2. Romero

Young Master Romero continues to raise his performance level drastically with each game, which by my reckoning means that he should become the best defender in the history of the game by approximately Easter Sunday.

When the match was long won, a four-goal lead established that even our lot couldn’t have messed up, I derived some entertainment from watching that Saint Maximin fellow scuttle away and perform step-overs and whatnot, looking for all the world like he possessed eight legs rather than the designated two. It generally required three in lilywhite to crowd him out on such occasions – except, however, when Romero sized him up.

There was a marvellous thrill in watching Romero trot over, cut through the bluster and fly into a challenge that pretty emphatically took ownership of the ball, whilst also uprooting young S-M and sending him a few feet into the atmosphere.

Simply to close the chapter on that violent note would, however, be to do Romero a grave injustice. The rattling challenges constitute only approximately 50% of the sketch. As has been noted with awe in recent weeks, part of the fellow’s magnetism lies in the fact that he also uses the ball with such good sense.

Romero tends to look for something fresh and spring-like when delivering a pass, as if to send the ball on its way with a message that he isn’t simply idling away the hours but genuinely believes that that act might be the start of something magnificent.

Which is not to suggest that every pass he plays scythes open the opposition: that is more the domain of rotter-in-chief, Harry Kane. Much of the time Romero’s passes are pretty gentle beasts – but they seem to me to have two critical points of delight.

Firstly, they are almost always forward, looking to advance the play by shifting the narrative from Defence to Midfield. Only in extreme circumstances does Romero go in for the rather negative business of bunging it back to the goalkeeper.  And secondly, they are generally very specific in nature, plastered all over with the name and whereabouts of the recipient, as opposed to simply being hoicked up the line with a fair amount of meat, for an unholy scrap to ensue between opposing members of the supporting cast.

It says much about the chap that when the ball rests at his size nines, rather than letting my eyes glaze over and contemplating the infinite, I crane the neck with a goodish amount of fevered anticipation.

3. Kane

I’m not sure whether Kane determines such things by poring over the data or simply tossing a coin, but this was evidently a day on which he decided that he would be Creator rather than Finisher, and after going through the motions a bit in the first half – like everyone else in lilywhite – he duly rolled up his sleeves and became unplayable thereafter.

I did wonder quite what the Newcastle tactical bods did with their time in the lead-up to this game, because Kane’s ability to drop deep and spray the ball wherever he damn well pleases is hardly an innovation. But as often as not when he picked up the ball around halfway, the Newcastle mob seemed to think he could be left to his own devices without causing any damage, seemingly oblivious to his ability to pick out teammates from just about anywhere on the pitch.

As ever there was some dreamy stuff, and the only shame was that he couldn’t be on the other end of his own passes. But I suppose that would be asking rather a lot, even for him, so we had to make do with him having the absolute time of his life in that withdrawn sort of role, orchestrating things like nobody’s business. In fact, by the end of proceedings he was starting to deliver no-look flicks and pings, which really are the hallmark of a chappie in his absolute prime.

Moreover, those around him started to pick up the rhythm of the thing too, realising that if Kane were in possession around them then they had better upgrade their own personal outputs. Thus it happened that Kulusevski started his dashes before Kane had even received the ball, and Emerson Royal – who in truth, rarely takes much convincing that he is a far better player than he actually is – began unleashing back-heeled passes and whatnot whenever his path crossed with Kane.

Of course, being a rotter, it is unclear quite how much longer Kane will remain a member of this particular parish, but while we’ve got him we might as well marvel at him.

4. Bentancur

Far fewer column inches will be devoted to young Master Bentancur. This strikes me as something of an injustice, for if column inches were to be dished out for artistry alone then Bentancur ought to have entire volumes written about him, as he both glides around the place and then typically picks a dickens of a useful forward pass, to chivvy things along and have the attackers snapping to it.

Even in that slightly moribund first half, when our heroes seemed to think that every pass required a detailed dossier of pros and cons before execution, Bentancur had the presence of mind to give the dashed thing swiftly, a hint rather lost on his colleagues.

This might not have been a day on which Bentancur’s passing brought obvious rewards – in terms of leading to goals and near-misses and the like – but with an egg like him taking possession of the thing in the middle third, life feels a lot less worrisome than it otherwise might.  

While Hojbjerg alongside him had one of his better days, I nevertheless remain impatient for the return of Skipp, and the unleashing of a double-act that promises to blow up the skirts of all onlookers. I rather fancy that Skipp’s energy would complement Bentancur’s smooth amblings around the place, and the overall effect would be ultimately to overwhelm all-comers.

5. Conte’s Attacking Substitution

On a final note, I was mightily impressed with Our Glorious Leader’s decision, in the final knockings, to replace Emerson with Bergwijn, and switch from a 3-5-2 to a 4-4-2 (terms I use loosely, given the fluidity of it all, but you get the gist). I was jolly surprised too, for the record, but mightily impressed nonetheless.

Lest we overlook the context, this change was made when we were already 4-1 up, so hardly the sort of situation that called for flinging on an extra attacking body. If anything, I would have expected the rather dispiriting if understandable sight of Davinson Sanchez tripping over his feet and into the fray, stage right, while Sonny or someone similarly attack-minded made the long walk around the perimeter.

Quite what the rationale was I cannot be sure, Conte still opting not to single out AANP for a quick tactical chat about this and that after the curtain falls. However, if the thinking was to press the foot on the accelerator and up the goal difference while opportunity knocked, then I think I might have to hastily rewrite the will and bequeath everything I own to this genius of a man.

It has long been a frustration of mine that when dishing out a hammering, and faced with an opponent desperately wanting to exit the premises and disappear up the motorway, rather than taking full advantage and peppering them with attack after remorseless attack as the clock winds down, our lot will too often stroke the ball around between themselves, as if content that their work is done. The concept of making a bit more hay while the sun is blazing down like the dickens appears lost on them.

All of which made the Emerson-Off-Bergwijn-On gambit yesterday even more pleasing. And you can probably picture AANP’s delight when the thing brought near-instant rewards, with Bergwijn bobbing along for his customary goal. As well as the entertainment value of dishing out a good thrashing, these things may also have some practical value come mid-May when the points are totted up. It was only a month ago that our goal difference was ten or so worse than the other lot; now we’re ahead by a nose. Long may the needless attacking substitutions continue.

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Spurs match reports

Man Utd 3-2 Spurs: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. A Performance That Deserved More

How we didn’t win that one is a bit of a mystery. I feel a bit like a detective who on unlocking the prison cell finds that the chief suspect has vanished into thin air – not so much aggrieved as plain baffled.

United were useless from root to tip, which doesn’t offer much consolation but does heighten the mystery. Ten of their eleven appeared not to know what day it was, what game it was or what sport it was. Of course, this being Spurs none of this is particularly necessary in order to prompt some pretty seismic defensive crises in our ranks, so even though our hosts lacked any strategy, skill or control, it wasn’t much trouble for them to turn to their one good player and swan off with three goals.

More positively, however, in the first half in particular our mob looked like the sort of well-ordered mob who have clear plans in place, seemingly able to march in behind the United defence whenever they pleased. There was no indication of hesitation or struggle in this respect, they simply waltzed towards the United area, attacks springing from a pleasing variety of avenues.

Kulusevski and Doherty seemed well-rehearsed in their routines on the right, never seeming a point at which the United defence in that area were ready to light their cigars and declare the situation contained.

Son, whose activities could be summarised in a narrative accurately titled, “The Unhindered Adventures of an Attacker Running From Deep”, seemed to have struck up a knowing nod and wink with Dier and Romero all evening. The latter pair adopted the admittedly agricultural approach of launching the ball into orbit, to land in the unattended expanse of United’s defensive third, but given that defensive duties were being neglected by everyone in the vicinity this policy made some sense.

I also derived a quiet pleasure from the sight of Messrs Bentancur and Hojbjerg tiptoeing forward to add their weight to our attacking endeavours. While both gave the impression that this was hardly their idea of a fun night out, the very presence of this pair in the final third hammered home the sense that this was not one of those games in which our lot were going to hang around and wait for the walls to crumble around them.

For some reason it petered out a little in the second half, as urgency was dialled down and a more leisurely approach to life adopte. This was pretty maddening stuff, given that we were still chasing the game, and I waved a pretty exasperated arm or two at times, unclear as to why nobody gave them a nudge about current affairs, but there was still enough about our lot to suggest we were good value for a win, let alone a draw.

2. Hojbjerg

This was not really the sort of occasion on which individuals leapt from the pitch to attract comment. However, it struck me that Master Hojbjerg seemed particularly keen to restore the reputation of his family name.

After a meaty start to his lilywhite career, Hojbjerg seems to have drifted along in recent times. He’s always there, and forever shouting and gesticulating, but with each passing week I become less clear what he offers.

His principal role seems to be to step forward from his designated position whenever an opponent has the ball on halfway, and give them a threatening stare, before said opponent shuttles the ball along and Hojbjerg retreats to his post. Nice if you like that sort of thing I suppose, and if that is the entirety of what Conte asks of him then he delivers the goods splendidly, but when I think of the long list of tasks that might be carried out by the modern midfielder, Hojbjerg rather oils into the background.

Yesterday, by contrast, he got stuck in, and I was all for it. As well as flinging himself into the occasional tackle, I was also pleasantly surprised to see him decide that in possession he would occasionally experiment with a more offensive approach.

This is not to suggest that the chap suddenly morphed into a modern-day Gascoigne, but it was still good to see him take a risk or two, rather than produce his usual party-trick of shoving the thing sideways and then bawling at a teammate and giving his hands a good wave.

Absence does still make the heart yearn for young Master Skipp, but this was nevertheless one of Hojbjerg’s better days.

3. Reguilon

This was something of a mixed bag from Senor Reguilon.

Generally happiest when haring up into the final third, Reguilon hardly needed persuading to join in the attacking fun, and the ball he delivered to set up our second was a delight, positively imploring a touch from an onrushing defender or, as it happened, an enthusiastic but incompetent defender. Few things in life thrill AANP like a well-whipped cross, and even if no finishing touch had been administered, and the ball had continued whipping off into the gaping expanse at the other end of the pitch, I would have purred in satisfaction.

Unfortunately, for all his enthusiasm, Reguilon missed his mark as often as he hit. The club mantra for the day seemed to be, “A misplaced pass is still a pass”, and this was a pledge Reguilon took to heart.

Moreover, the young cove was at least partly responsible for the second goal conceded. In his defence, each of Dier and Davies seemed also culpable here, with all of the above hitting upon the ripping idea of dashing upfield to implement the offside trap – but in something of a staggered approach, which you or I could have advised was a bad idea. Collective responsibility might well be the final verdict, but given that he could gaze along the entire line of the defence Reguilon does not escape censure.

4. Doherty

As with Reguilon, so Doherty delivered a performance littered with both the positive and negative.

On the plus side, as remarked above, he seemed to gravitate fairly naturally towards the attacking requirements of his position. And he did not stop there, opting regularly to inject his own interpretation of the role by drifting infield from the touchline to the penalty area. This was no bad thing at all, for while some defenders react to the sight of the opposition net by having their entire life swim before them and blasting the ball to the heavens, Doherty seems to understand the basics of such situations, and is more inclined to drill the thing at the target and force the ‘keeper to deal with the consequences.

However, rather maddeningly, Doherty was also a keen follower of the club rule about misplaced passes. Moreover, as the chap tasked with marking Ronaldo at corners, Doherty can be considered chiefly culpable for the third goal conceded.

Now admittedly there is a mitigating circumstance here, in that this is one of the most challenging tasks in the history of the game. And to his credit, Doherty did not abandon his post. He rose from the ground; he flailed his arms; he did his best to insert his frame between opponent and ball. It just wasn’t good enough, and therefore while giving him a mark for effort I will still fold my arms and refuse to speak to him next time our paths cross.

In truth, the standard on both sides was pretty low, and while United seemed happy to give us the ball and let us do our worst, we ought to have made more of this.

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Spurs match reports

Spurs 5-0 Everton: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. Doherty

Quite the curiosity last night, with our lot seemingly having only to lace their boots and string three or four passes together in order to rack up five goals, but if one fellow arrested the attention it was Matt Doherty.

I suppose for avoidance of doubt it is best to clarify that his was no throwback to the golden years of Walker or Trippier, sprinting up the line in a blur or heels. Nevertheless, Doherty’s contributions, particularly on the attack, were sound and plentiful.

For a start, I was rather taken by the positions he adopted. If he had simply edged up the right touchline, adopting appropriate poses as the ball did its thing further infield, I’d have accepted this as a pretty adequate contribution and passed on to the next item on the agenda. Which is not to downplay such input. Not all wing-backs are blessed with this capability. Young Tanganga, for example, seems to let ‘I dare not’ wait upon ‘I would’ when taking the role. So well done Doherty for passing this particular life lesson.

But what really caught the eye was the fact that he often squirted infield, ending up in what I suppose one might call a central midfield sort of position. My eyes did not deceive. In the very same patch of land on which I have been privileged to witness the likes of Hoddle, Gascoigne and Modric tread the boards, there was Matt Doherty. For added impact, and as if to hammer home that this was no mirage but an actual ploy devised by the great minds, Kulusevski appeared outside him in the space he was vacating, to provide width and bamboozle Everton minds further.

Now all of this would in itself have been something to relate to the grandchildren, one of those ‘Tales of the Unexpected’, but what really sealed the thing was the passing range then unleashed by Doherty, from this temporary midfield berth. For reasons best known to the gods, the young nib took it upon himself to morph occasionally into Christian Eriksen, and start pinging defence-splitters about the place.

I goggled. Everton fell apart at the seams. Pundits up and down the land simply ignored it, because Matt Doherty does not fit anyone’s thrilling, pre-ordained narrative. And yet there he was, in glorious technicolour, first destroying Everton to create Kane’s first, as mentioned above, and then clipping one over the top of the defence for Kane’s second.

Now there is plenty more work to be done in the project to turn Matt Doherty into the beating heart of this Tottenham team, but this was a pretty fine start. After all, having thrown around £25m at Emerson Royal in the summer, and then stood back and watched as he failed to deliver one successful cross in six months, it is fair to say that the wing-back experiment was meeting with pretty limited success.

The exploits of Doherty in the last couple of games therefore, with a goal, three assists and some splendid vision and execution on his passes, suddenly has an inner voice whispering that we might have at least a temporary solution on our hands.

2. Kulusevski

With each passing game, the AANP dial becomes ever redder, burning with shame at the early aspersions cast on the character of young Master Kulusevski.  Back then, in his opening cameos, I lamented the heaviness of his touch, the leaden-natured manner of his pace and the one-footedness of his general outlook on life.

My about-turn has been swift and complete. I suppose that early opinion of him was coloured by the fact that he was not Lucas Moura. Conditioned by affection and loyalty towards the latter, I huffed a fair bit when Kulusevski was introduced and failed immediately to introduce a spring-dance into proceedings such as by twinkling past three defenders and falling over.

Kulusevski, however, brings other attributes to the arena, by the bucketload.

Plucking one at random, one gets the impression that he does not slink out of the club canteen on steak day. The chap appears a pretty sturdy construction. I was particularly enamoured of the fact that at one point in the second half last night, when an Everton blister effected his best Cristian Romero impression and attempted to saw Kulusevski horizontally in half with a wild swing at the legs, our man tottered briefly, took stock and deciding that life actually wasn’t so bad after all carried on motoring down the flank.

My previous slight about him possessing a right foot for balance and aesthetic purposes only, can also be dismissed without further stain on his reputation. Naturally enough, the man has his preference. Only human to prefer one lower limb to the other, but whereas previously I would have sworn on all that was dear to me that Kulusevski would not have crossed the ball with his right peg if his life depended on it, yesterday he casually unloaded a few just to pass the time.

While it would be a stretch to describe the effect as sensational, it did make one raise a pleasantly surprised eyebrow. For as is well known, if a nib renowned for using his left foot and only his left foot starts using his right foot, well then the blighters in opposition will have to stop and swill things over in their mind a bit when getting involved in an exchange of views.

All of this was fruity stuff of course, but the real show-stopping part has been the man’s input in the final third. The dink to Son for his goal yesterday, the pass for Reguilon’s goal, and numerous other understated contributions in the past few games. Kulusevski might not have the crowd-pleasing appearance of a Lucas Moura gathering a head of steam and dancing one way and t’other, but he seems a pretty effective addition to the ranks, particularly in tandem with Doherty.

3. Kane

That rotter Harry Kane was at it again, and he really is a sight to behold. His input from midfield was actually a little more muted than against Man City and Leeds. The spirit was as willing as ever on this front, but the flesh a little weak – understandably enough given that whenever he touched the ball around halfway a mob of enforcers in Everton colours were swiftly dispatched to jostle and harass the chap.

However, the joy of Harry Kane is of course that he is at least two footballers in one, and if the creative juices have a lid placed upon them, the goalscorer that lurks within pretty swiftly comes lurking without.

Thus it transpired yesterday. As one who, in their younger days, rather fancied themselves in attack, I am well aware of the perils that await when clean through on goal and with plenty of time to run a finger down the index of options. Mercifully, a chap like Kane has his thoughts unclouded by any such detail, and, always keen to introduce a business-like touch into proceedings, tends simply to belt the thing home and be done with it.

Thus was his first goal executed yesterday. While it looked straightforward fare to the mere mortal, my days of glory in the Amateur Football Combination Division 6 North render Kane and I kindred spirits, and I am therefore better positioned than most to attest that his finish was mightily impressive. We strikers know.

The second however, was the sort of stuff that even had the AFCD6N veterans drawing a sharp intake of breath. One could pen a pretty hefty tome detailing the various ways in which that finish might have gone wrong, and yet Kane’s views on such opportunities were apparently the same as his views on the first half opportunity: viz. just belt the thing home and be done with it.

4. Sessegnon

Oddly enough, the ball was set rolling last night by young Master Sessegnon, his being the cross that the Everton laddie thoughtfully bulleted into his own net.

I say oddly enough, because after a couple of half-decent games Sessegnon was again looking last night like an egg for whom life as a footballer was a bed of roses until one introduced the actual football into the equation.

It was notable that for that opening goal his interaction with the ball was pretty limited. Ultimately, at its crescendo, he admittedly had to kick the thing, but his primary responsibility in the operation was simply to get his head down and run. And this at least is an art he seems swiftly to be mastering.

Helpfully he was up against Seamus Coleman in this undertaking, a gnarled old bounder who has been plugging away for about a century and a half, and who, as such, was likely to concede a few yards of pace and gasps of air to our young whippersnapper.  Accordingly, Sessegnon triumphed in the foot-race, and then, courtesy of Ben Davies’ laser-like accuracy of pass, was left only with the task of closing his eyes, swinging his left foot and hoping for the best.

To his credit, it was an excellent cross, pacy and delivered into a threatening area. And after this zenith, Sessegnon’s game degenerated pretty rapidly. I would suggest that his touch deserted him, but this would be to insinuate that his touch was ripe, ready and in situ in the first place. Not for the first time, he spent his evening being buffeted off the ball or tripping over the thing when attempting to take it out for a stroll.

At one point, having lost the ball, he hit upon the electric idea of crashing to earth and attempting to grab his opponent from the floor with his arms. He missed, of course, and the immediate consequence was a booking for Sonny, who had to intervene with a more socially recognisable foul.

As if to emphasise the learning that remains for Sessegnon, Reguilon replaced him and scored with his first touch.

I will repeat the mantra of recent weeks that the young fellow has a future ahead of him, but for present engagements I would rather see Reguilon on the left, mirroring the contributions of Doherty on the right.

5. Well-Crafted Goals

Unlikely though it sounds now that the lid has been put in place and the game lowered into the ground, Everton actually began things in the ascendancy. More to the point, our players seemed quite content for this to be the way of things.

Put another way, Everton pressed high up the pitch, and in that maddening way of theirs, our lot seemed to accept that this was simply an inescapable fact of life. Rather than resist it the collective attitude around the back-line seemed to be that they might as well all accept it with good grace as beyond their remit to influence.

Those opening exchanges troubled me. Principally, what rankled was the rather fat-headed way in which those in lilywhite attempted to pass their way casually out from defence. One understands the theory of course, and when well executed it can prove a delightful little routine, complete with promising finale.

But, crucially, last night it was not well executed. In fact, repeatedly, it was executed with a care-free frivolity that seemed entirely inappropriate to the occasion. Just about every time we tried those cute little passes around the Everton mob, the whole operation fell apart within spitting distance of our own area, and trouble loomed. Mercifully, Everton were utter rot from start to finish, and would not have scored if they had played until Easter, but I still did not look the manner in which our gang were going about things, and my stern glares towards them no doubt communicated as such.

And yet, despite insistence upon this strategy that was equal parts moronic and lackadaisical, within the blink of an eye our heroes were two or three goals to the good and skipping towards the finish line without shedding a bead of perspiration between them.

The key to it seemed to be simply to pick and execute a small handful of some absolutely glorious passes. The sort that would have the Sky mob purring if delivered from the size nines of de Bruyne or Fernandes, but rather pass under the radar when wheeled out by Ben Davies and Matt Doherty.

Exhibit A was Ben Davies’ pass around the defender and into space for young Sessegnon to gallop after. As mentioned, Sessegnon is a creature of pretty limited means, but point him in the right direction and release him from the traps, and you’re in business. Davies’ pass did precisely that, and deserved shiny gold stars for its weight and placement, both of which were immaculate.

This was soon followed by the lightest of dinks from Kulusevski, to put Sonny in the clear. Closer inspection revealing that not only did it put Sonny in the clear but it also made the brain of the nearest Everton defender explode, as he weighed up the benefits of chasing the ball and chasing the man, and found them tugging him with equal weight in opposite directions.

Matt Doherty’s pass for the third was the best of the lot, having the effect of lining up the entire Everton defence and then scattering them all over the place. Not many passes in football are so effective that they make the opposition players forget that a ball even exists, and start spinning around and bumping into one another, but this pass seemed to do that.

And as mentioned, Harry Kane isn’t the sort to put a hand on a hip and stand watching, admiringly – he simply ran off and scored – but had he been that sort he’d have noted with some admiration that he had time to jog the entire perimeter of the pitch before taking his shot, such was the devastating effect of the pass from Doherty.  

It was all breathtakingly simple in the end, and in a way justified the insistence upon all those curiously ill-planned attempts to pass out from the back. As it turned out, we only needed one of those to work and like magic our forwards and wing-backs were in on goal.

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Spurs match reports

Middlesbrough 1-0 Spurs: Three Tottenham Talking Points

1. Conte’s Tactics

By and large AANP is not one go in for controversial opinions for the hell of it. ‘Live and let live’ is pretty much the anthem around these parts, leaving the stirring of hornets’ nests to those better suited.

So you can take it as a sign of how just deeply I was moved by last night’s rot that I’m willing to stick the neck out and chant an ode or two in opposition to Our Glorious Leader, a chap who’s generally been immune to criticism since donning the robes.

Now this is not to exonerate the eleven-plus on the pitch, who trotted around in half-hearted circles all night to no great effect. (Talking of which, if I hear one more player clear his throat and drone on about having to “learn lessons” and “do better” there’s a good chance that the next you hear of AANP he’ll have been arrested for murder.)

But even allowing for the doleful and half-hearted way in which our heroes went about their business last night, as if it were really a bit thick to ask them to play football for 90 minutes, I thought a decent chunk of the blame should be lobbed in the direction of Signor Conte.

Faced with a perfectly winnable fixture, against a side in a division below us for goodness’ sake, he seemed oddly convinced that Middlesbrough might pull off their masks and reveal themselves to be one of the great footballing superpowers of the modern age. As a result, the strict instruction was that we were to surrender possession, pull everyone back behind the ball and watch nervously, seemingly based on the principle that one never knew when our hosts might suddenly sit up and annihilate us. I suppose there is always that risk in any game of football, but it did seem to be an unnecessarily circumspect outlook.

One understands that in life one must exercise some level-headedness. It would be no good sticking ten forwards on the pitch and instructing them all to hare into the opposition area the whole time. Some common sense is key. And I suppose the A.C. Fan Club might point out that in the first half at least, the tactic could be said to have worked – Boro were kept at arm’s length, while our lot had the occasional sniff on the counter.

But nevertheless, watching on as our entire eleven camped behind the ball and held their breath, while our hosts ineffectively rolled the thing from side to side, I did think that we were laying on the caution a little too heavily. Without wanting to sound too outrageous, I wondered whether we might not adopt a slightly more adventurous spirit, by taking possession ourselves and keeping them penned back for a while.

Conte was having none of it however, and in the second half if anything the situation worsened, as any attacking sentiment remained well down the agenda, but our defence started to creak.

To his credit, Conte did briefly stick in his finger and give things a swish, rearranging from 3-4-3 to 4-4-1-1, for those who like to slap numbers on things. And while this – and specifically young Master Bergwijn – jolted our lot out of their slumbers and reminded them that they were actually allowed to attack, it also seemed to have the effect of removing whatever piece of frayed string was holding our defence together.

The ad hoc back-four struggled not so much with their new arrangement as with the very concepts of space and time. Ben Davies seemed not to realise that he was supposed to shuffle from centre-back to left-back; while  in Emerson Royal we have a blister who has spent his entire Tottenham career to date failing to master the basics of defending, so he was not about to right all his wrongs in the blink of an eye last night. Boro waltzed in amongst us whenever they pleased, and their goal felt as inevitable a progression as night following day.

As mentioned, none of those on the pitch (bar perhaps Bergwijn) seemed remotely concerned by the gravity of the episode, and as such they are all culpable here – but the nagging question at the heart of all this remains, viz. why on earth Conte set us up so passively in the first place.

2. Kane

Come the summer there’s a reasonable chance that that rotter Harry Kane will once again toss a toy from his pram and find some roundabout way to let it be known that, rather than stick around the place, he’d prefer to shove a few belongings in a rucksack and take off looking for shiny pots. But after last night’s guff, one element of this jars. It’s this business of Kane wanting to leave so as to win stuff.

On the face of it this is an understandable sentiment for any man of ambition. I have no truck with any fellow who would rather win a Cup Final than lose one. Dashed sensible way of going about things if you ask me.

But when Kane moans about it – or has his entourage leak a story to the press about it, which to be honest strikes me as not really playing the game – I butt in with an irate waggle of the forefinger.

The gist of my objection is that if Kane really wants to win a trophy so badly, then he can bally well go out there and win one. It’s not as if, come the biggest games, we omit him from the team and leave it up to everyone else to decide whether or not a medal will be hung around his neck. He is part of the set-up himself. In fact, he’s not just part of it, these days he’s the building block around which the whole damn set-up is constructed. This means that when it comes to winning trophies, the responsibility lies upon him more than anyone else about the place.

Were you or I to whinge that we wanted trophies, if nothing else everyone could agree that the whole thing is beyond our control. But for Kane, this business is very much within his control. One might say it’s his specialist subject. Winning trophies is precisely the thing he’s paid handsome sums to do.

So next time this pest has his minions issue a decree to the effect that he wants a medal and won’t stop whingeing until he gets one, I’ll direct his attention to the perfectly serviceable opportunity he passed up on last night. Supposedly in the form of his life, and up against a team from the division below, Kane reacted to the occasion by withdrawing into his shell in a manner that would attract admiring glances from nature’s most reticent tortoises, emerging only to stray occasionally offside and moan a bit about the opposition and ref, who will now have a goodish idea of what it feels like to be a Spurs fan reading the back pages in the summer.

A trophy has to be earned – which I suppose one might want to whisper if within earshot of the teachers on Sports Day – and frankly last night Kane missed the cut by some distance. If he therefore pipes up this summer, draped in a sense of entitlement, that he’d rather look elsewhere he’ll have a pretty meaty curse or two filling his ears from this quarter.

 3. Wing-Backs

As remarked earlier, this was not an occasion on which any of our lot will look back particularly fondly, I imagine. Kane and Son were oddly neutered, while anyone who rocked up in the breezy expectation of Winks and Hojbjerg providing any attacking vim was in for a pretty nasty shock.

In such situations, much depends upon the wing-backs to inject into proceedings some gaiety and spunk. After their triumphs of the weekend it seemed reasonable enough that Messrs Sessegnon and Doherty were again invited to go forth and do wondrous deeds, and in the early knockings it actually appeared that they might have some joy.

Sessegnon seemed game. One could admittedly fill a whole book with the various lessons he still has to learn, but he entered into the spirit of thing willingly enough and at least started the game looking like someone who knew that good things would come to those who pelted over halfway and up into the final third.

And on the right, having weighed up the options of parking himself north of the halfway line or south of it, Doherty seemed similarly convinced that more fun was to be had in attack. While not blessed with the same raw pace as Sessegnon, he nevertheless appeared to enjoy the licence to explore the attacking third.

It was a shame then, that when opportunity did finally present itself, in the form of near-enough an open goal, Doherty went down the ill-advised route of blasting the thing with gusto and violence. It was a poor choice. One could have told him straight away that what the situation demanded was a cool mind and steady hand – or, in this case, foot. Simply rolling the ball towards the target would have sufficed. Doherty instead seemed convince that the solution required rather more emphasis, and almost evacuated the ball from the ground.


This was undoubtedly a setback, but, ever the optimist, I nevertheless reasoned that simply having got himself into such a situation reflected well on the chap. It would be a stretch to say that he and Sessegnon dominated things, but they did at least offer regular attacking outlets. One got the sense, at least at the outset, that their souls were fired by the confidence of recent events.  

At that point, it seemed that not only did this pair represent our best hope of ingress on the night, but their advances also carried some symbolic weight. The success of Conte-ball does, after all, depend on the wing-backs, and these two appeared to be catching the gist of things.

Unfortunately, whatever hopes and dreams these two carried in their first half were pretty unceremoniously stamped into oblivion thereafter. Their fortunes collectively fell off a cliff in the second half. Both seemed to drift out of the game in search of amusement elsewhere, and Conte, presumably feeling that one ineffectual wing-back is as good as another, hooked both before the end.

All of which means that the wait for a trophy will now enter a fifteenth year, our inability to string two decent results together remains entrenched and it is a pretty even thing whether our players, managers or we the fans are enjoying this least.

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Spurs match reports

Leeds 0-4 Spurs: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. A Decent Winks Moment

Given current circumstances at N17, I suspect most of us would have taken an early goal in just about any format, but there was particular delight to be had in celebrating an opener such as yesterday’s, which had about it finery in its every component.

For a start, there was the role of young Winks. As has been well advertised for some time now, Winks is the sort of bounder who is liable to swing pretty heavily in one of two polarising directions. Sometimes a buccaneering type, adventure coursing through the veins and happy to smatter handy passes about the place; but oftentimes a rather tiresome egg, shovelling the damn thing sideways and then trotting after it to demand it back, only then to shovel it backwards and repeat the whole routine from the top.

Yesterday, however, he played the game. Collecting the ball on the half-turn inside his own half, he made his first smart choice in giving the rudder a yank so that he was facing the Leeds end; then followed up with a second S.C. by scampering off like a terrier that has spotted a goodish looking tennis ball, his little legs taking him to the heady heights of the halfway line.

At this point, with options abounding thanks to the movement of his superiors in attack, young Winks took the opportunity to melt the AANP heart by playing my favourite pass in the world. If you’ve ever wandered these parts before you’ll know exactly the one I mean, and are probably rolling your eyes and urging me to get on with it – but nothing makes this particular spine tingle quite like a perfectly-weighted pass inside the full-back, and Winks hit the sweet spot.

2. Sessegnon

And at this point, young Master Sessegnon grabbed the mic and seized the day. If Winks displays flashes that are occasionally good and occasionally bad, poor old Sessegnon has been accumulating nothing but the rotten stuff of late. If ever a blighter needed to dodge the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune and unwrap a spot of game-changing produce, that blighter was Sessegnon.

Having been let off the leash by Winks’ pass Sessegnon duly ticked all the necessary boxes – haring onto the thing and then delivering a peach of a cross into the centre, the sort of cross so invitingly whipped that only a man of the dullest intelligence would have contrived to miss out on it.

Nor was this an isolated incident, which is more the point really. On the front-foot, Sessegnon played with the gay abandon of a soul strangely untroubled by any of his recent trials. In recent weeks he has merely tiptoed forward, with the sheepish air of a cove who, not feeling he belongs, considers his best options to be either bursting into tears or running away to the safety of his own half – in short, anything but contributing in confident and productive manner.

Yesterday, however, he bobbed about the place like a man from whose shoulders the weight of the world had recently been removed, and who was dashed well going to celebrate the fact.

Take a look at our second and third goals, and the chap furthest up the pitch on the left was Sessegnon. With Sonny dragging the Leeds right back infield as if a small animal on a string for sport, there were acres in front of Sessegnon and he duly bounded into them at every opportunity.

My soul was also stirred by the quality of his crossing. As noted, the delivery for Doherty’s goal was the sort of good stuff that attracted top marks for everything from geometrical precision to the timing of the gag, and in the early stages of the game in particular, seemingly well aware that he was onto a good thing, he took to dashing down the left and pinging crosses into the area as if the whole thing were a new toy that he couldn’t get enough of.

The early flurry then subsiding, it was time for Sessegnon to ditch the frivolity and get on with the more sombre business of defending his corner. With the elastic-legged Raphinha up against him this threatened to be taxing stuff. Now admiring though I am of Sessegnon’s all-round performance yesterday, I hesitate to turn this into some sort of propaganda leaflet for the chap. So let history record that he made a moderate stab of the defensive side of things, but life in this quarter was not without its hitches.

In plain English, once or twice he was bested. Once or twice, of course, he himself emerged triumphant from the battle of wills and limbs; but once or twice he was bested. In sum, therefore, I suppose you could say it was an even sort of thing.

A sterner judge than AANP might also note that he received a caution for one of his less impressive endeavours, and also contributed a pretty ghastly pass that put into motion the sequence that saw Lloris go racing off into a different postcode, leaving the Leeds chappie to make a pig’s ear of an open goal. All side-splitting stuff come the punchline, but let it not be overlooked that its genesis was the errant boot of Sessegnon.

So all told, definitely one of the lad’s better days, and promising stuff for all who consider paradise to be a world littered with wing-backs who can offer value in the final third; but let it not be overlooked that he is not yet fitted with the all the necessary equipment.

3. Doherty

And on the subject of wing-backs who can offer value in the final third, Matt Doherty looked frightfully pleased with himself for his early contribution, and as well he might.

His finish itself was well taken, but probably no more than that. I think we’d have all have felt pretty disappointed if he had spooned the ball off into the atmosphere somewhere wide of the mark, given the quality of the delivery and relative lack of impediments standing in his way. So well done him.

But more than the finish, the impressive thing here was that Doherty had first hit upon the idea of bolting into the area as the apex of the attack, and then had undertaken the necessary spadework to ensure that this dream became reality.

Had any of Kane, Son or Kulusevski assumed the role of ‘Unnamed Extra Applying Finishing Touch’ one would have breezily shrugged it off as part of the day-job, and joined in with the back-slaps and high-fives as if the whole process were the most natural thing in the world. Arriving in the area to apply the finishing touch is, after all, one of the first bullet-points on the job description of such folk.

For Doherty to have dabbled in this area, however, makes one sit up and chew the thing over a bit. For a start, this was no freak occurrence. Sometimes, for example in the aftermath of a set-piece, a bean such as Davinson Sanchez or Eric Dier or whomever might find himself slap bang in the middle of the six-yard box with the ball bouncing kindly at his right foot and the goal at his mercy. Serendipitous, of course, but hardly part of the masterplan.

Doherty’s arrival as leader of the cavalry, however, seemed to be the conclusion of something that had had a good deal more production value and rehearsal time. When Winks received the ball in his own half – even before he had turned to set off towards the halfway line – Doherty had taken that as his cue and was already switching to Sprint mode, overtaking each of Kane, Son and Kulusevski in the process.

Obviously a joyous conclusion was then reached in this particular sub-plot, but the broader narrative seemed to be something along the lines that here, finally, was an example of a pair of wing-backs making maximum use of all the natural assets bestowed upon them by Mother Nature.

I have rarely been shy of preaching on these very pages of the positive, transformative effect that a good, wholesome, attacking pair of wing-backs can have upon a team, and the contributions of both Sessegnon with his cross and Doherty in having the good sense to motor to the front of the queue, demonstrated this.

Of course, playing a team as tactically naïve and wide open as Leeds did chivvy the thing along no end, and by the final knockings even Emerson Royal was popping up in the centre-forward position, so one ought probably ought not to get too carried away by either the system or the contribution of Doherty. But nevertheless, it was heartening stuff.

One question that remained unanswered by yesterday’s goings-on was around the crossing of Doherty. Emerson’s repeated attempts in this area over the last few months have driven me close to apoplexy, so I tuned in yesterday with pretty feverish anticipation of what delights Doherty might bestow. Alas, I’m not sure I remember him delivering one cross the whole game. The early knockings bore fruit from the left, and later on our tactic became counter-attacking via the size nines of Kane, so there is no further evidence to submit.

4. Kane

But when that rotter Harry Kane is drifting off into his own little world, far advanced of the mere mortals around him, I suppose it does not really matter whether or not one’s right wing-back can cross or not. Such considerations recede in importance. This seemed also to be the train of thought of Kane. In fact, just about every other position on the pitch, and the identities of those occupying them, seemed to recede in importance in the mind of Kane, in the second half, as he took it upon himself to orchestrate every bally thing.

It was ripping stuff. As and when the whim took him, he would collect the ball on the half-turn and calmly bisect with one expertly-judged pass the entire Leeds back-line, with all the languid ease of a man stroking his knife through butter. These moments caused a bit of sensation, leading to such highlights as Doherty’s one-on-one and Sonny’s goal.

But as well as the headline-grabbing stuff, what really caused the punters to murmur was the fact that as the game wore on he gradually just assumed a position of complete control of everything that was happening on the pitch. It rather reminded me of that skinny fellow in the cinematic flick “The Matrix”, who after a while exerted so much control over the ones and zeroes that he just sauntered about the place doing as he bade, and the assorted villains could do little more than say, “Righto”, and leave him to it.

Thus did Kane dominate things. Just wandering about the midfield, collecting the ball and doing whatever he damn well pleased with it. If he were not our best striker he’d arguably be our best midfielder, and towards the death he could be spotted tracking back feverishly in the right-back vicinity, as if to make a further point.

As last week against City, so yesterday against Leeds, his actual goal seemed almost an afterthought, despite being one heck of a finish. Many an inferior striker would have been overcome by the arc of the pass, the angle from which the ball dropped, the tightness of the angle to goal and multiple other taxing elements at play. Kane simply extended a casual limb and deposited the thing in the net.

5. Chances Conceded

Four-nil is obviously a thrashing in anyone’s book, and after the events of recent weeks, when the general sentiment has been that if it is not one thing it is dashed well going to be another, it was a very welcome turn of events too.

Leeds for their part looked like they could keep playing until the end of the year without scoring, such was the dizzying wealth of ways in which they contrived to miss fairly straightforward opportunities. And while this no doubt made for entertaining viewing, it did stir some nameless foreboding deep within me. That is to say, they seemed to carve us open rather too often and too easily, what?

Obviously one does not want to bring down the mood of the thing. If an away day brings four goals and three points then I would be the last person to request that the noise is kept down. But whereas last week we were so systematically organised that City could barely fashion a clear chance – relying on a goalkeeping flap and an iffy penalty – yesterday Leeds seemed to carve us open every five minutes.

Watching them tip-toe time and again to the very brink of our net, I did feel a sense of concern. Had we conceded at three-nil you would not have found a bullish, confident AANP, insisting that ‘twas merely a flesh-wound. You’d have found instead a deeply troubled AANP, convinced that some terrible fate lurked, and was going to upgrade from “lurking” to “dashed well happening” in a matter of minutes.

That we didn’t concede that first goal seemed to owe little to our own defensive capabilities, and much to the inability of Leeds to hit the target.

I suppose it is not one about which I should lose too much sleep, for the next game will be another day, and we may well tighten things up both in defence and in those more porous parts of the midfield. And for large parts of the second half in particular, our game-management and control of possession actually ticked along reasonably well. Nevertheless, for all the frivolity about the place at the final whistle, it seemed to me that a soft warning had been sounded, which those in power might do well to cast an eye over.

Categories
Spurs news, rants

Spurs’ January Transfer Window: Six Tottenham Talking Points

1. Dele

AANP has traditionally been one to greet bad news with a stiffening of the upper lip and, if pushed, a solemn, unspoken nod at a nearby chum who feels similarly. And rarely has the upper lip been stiffer in recent times than upon learning of the departure of young Dele.

Utterly inevitable of course. The young bean had long ago fizzled out, and generally only popped up in lilywhite in recent years to drift along in his own little world before another month or two on the bench. If any other wag did what he’s been doing – slowing down the game, hogging the ball, moodily waving the arms and giving up the cause when dispossessed – the knives would have been out and pitchforks flung in his direction a long time ago.

By the time the bitter end swung around Dele offered purely decorative value. We’d spot him pre-match, forlornly nutmegging his fellow subs during the warm-up, but thereafter his biggest contribution tended to be in unwrapping a blanket for his legs as he watched on from the bench. If ever a former bright young thing needed a change of scenery, it is Dele. One does not disagree with the unceremonious binning.

Quite why it all went wrong is a rummy one. Dele’s problem seemed ultimately to be an existential one, in that his favoured No. 10 position simply ceased to exist. Disappeared into the ether. This must have been pretty tough for the chap to take, essentially turning up to work to find that his desk had been removed, but I suppose time – and systems involving one central striker and two inverted wingers – wait for no man.

Within Conte’s 3-4-3, there is no room for a midfielder who yearns deep inside to be a forward. Conte’s midfielders must midfield first, and ghost into the opposition area only on special occasions.

(Admittedly the 3-5-2 set-up, which brought something like the best out of Dele vs Liverpool a few weeks back, suggested that there might be life in the old dog yet, and I confess to being a mite surprised that this experiment was not repeated, but Conte presumably had seen enough.)

So off he has popped – and yet it does lower the mood about the place, what? Peak Dele was, if not necessarily the heartbeat, then certainly one of the essential organs of the whole glorious-without-actually-bringing-home-any-specific-glory Poch era.

This is not so much for what he did (although the list is plentiful and glorious: popping up as young scamps will do, with goals against Real, and Arse, and Chelsea; demonstrating some quite glorious touches to pluck falling footballs from the sky; grinning cheekily while kicking out slyly; contorting thumb and forefinger; and so on).

It’s as much for what the very presence of the chap said about our last fun adventure: Poch-era Tottenham. Here was a brash young bounder who oozed talent and positively revelled in flicking the ears of shinier opponents. Think of him in his bursting-from-midfield pomp, and it’s hard not to think of that all-singing, all-dancing team of nearly-men who had an absolute blast and took us to within a whisker of pots of various sizes.

And by a similar token, removing Dele in effect dismantles more of that Poch machinery, leaving behind just the top and tail of the thing.

“Here’s Dele Alli… here’s Lucas Moura… OH THEY’VE DONE IT!

2. Ndombele and Lo Celso

Tottenham Hotspur is, of course, where talented foreign footballers go to die, so we probably should not be too surprised that having looked like the sort of beans around whom Title-challenging teams could be built in their YouTube compilations and international performances, Ndombele and Lo Celso are now being bundled out of the nearest exit.

Dashed shame though. One didn’t need to boast the keenest football eye to detect that each of the aforementioned were capable of some pretty ripping stuff with a ball at their feet – and I rather fancy that they’ll do more of the same in sunnier climes in the months and years to come, when bedecked in anything but lilywhite.

And yet, present them with the lush greenery of N17 and the pair of them struggled to remember what game they were playing.

Actually, I do Ndombele a disservice there. The chap’s great flaw was not his touch, or delivery, or any such thing. The main challenge Ndombele seemed to encounter any time he finished tying his laces was that after one quick trot around the pitch he seemed to need a full week to recover, gasping for air, his lungs aflame and legs as jelly.

If inclined one could probably write a long-ish essay on what went wrong and what might have been a bit right-er about Ndombele’s time at Spurs. There were moments when he would receive the ball in the narrowest of corners, boxed in by a variety of opposing limbs, and still mesmerically emerge from said dead-end with ball at feet and opponents dizzied. Sometimes he would even throw in end-product too, a delightfully-weighted pass or a shot from the edge of the area.

Ultimately, however, neither he nor Lo Celso seemed remotely cut out for a life in the heart of the Tottenham midfield. Lo Celso in particular seemed to make a habit, in recent months, of doing small things with great error, be it a simple pass to tick along the midfield or a corner to beat the first man.

Perhaps if any of the umpteen managers who oversaw them had seen fit to take either of these two souls, stick them slap-bang in the heart of things and construct a team around them, their talents might have blazed forth and all would have been right with the world.

But it is telling that none of those managers did. Sometimes no words need uttering, and these appears to be those times. A knowing nod, and tap of the nose speaks volumes. “Ndombele and Lo Celso”, one manager after another seems to have been saying, without actually saying, “not the sort of eggs upon whom one can rely.” And if an egg can’t be relied upon in midfield, there’s not much left for them other than the scraps of substitute appearances and an occasional Europa start.

3. Bryan Gil

There are loans and then there are loans, and while Ndombele and Lo Celso’s loans seem to carry with them a rather unsubtle message that if they want to stick around in their new homes then it’s fine by all back at HQ, the loan of Bryan Gil has more of the bona fide have-him-for-a-bit-but-then-return-him about it.

The view at AANP Towers is pretty unimpressed about this one, from start to finish. One probably should let bygones be bygones and whatnot, but I still chafe a bit at the thought that we traded in one perfectly serviceable Lamela – plus £20m, dash it – for this Gil character.

Not Gil’s fault of course, he can do little more than turn up where told, at the appointed hour and with hair combed just so. But the logic behind the whole trade-off to this day has me scratching the old loaf. I should probably revisit the whole script in a few years’ time, when Gil has discovered the joys of steak lunches and bench presses, but for now he is a boy in a man’s world if ever there were one.

The loan at least means he can get his size fives in contact with a ball again, so silver linings and all that. More terrifyingly, in conjunction with the paperwork on Dele, Ndombele and Lo Celso, it leaves the creative cupboard pretty bare – but this is presumably a contingency for which Our Glorious Leader has planned.

4. Bentancur and Kulusevski

As ever, if you want a detailed analysis of these fellows’ strengths, weaknesses, preferences and whatnot then you are in a laughably bad spot of the interweb, but do stick around anyway.

AANP can be pretty sharp at times, and having seen Conte get rid of three creative central midfield types, and summon Bentancur – yet another of those fellows whose idea of a good time is rolling up their sleeves, scrapping for the ball and then shoving it sideways – I get the impression that Our Glorious Leader has a type.

As such this means another seat will be needed around the Central Midfield campfire, next time Messrs Hojbjerg, Skipp and Winks gather to chew the fat. Whether Bentancur proves to be any improvement on current produce remains to be seen, but he is another pair of legs for that midfield slot, so this can be considered a good week for anyone who has ever taken a look at our squad and tearfully warbled about its depth.

As for Kulusevski, this is apparently a chap fitted out for life in the more advanced positions, either coming in from the right or, intriguingly, straight through the centre (albeit as a supporting act rather than line-leading sort).

It would be a bit of a stretch therefore to suggest that in him we have that much-needed back-up to Harry Kane, but I think the gist is that he can be shoved into any of the attacking spots and expected to know his way around the premises.

As ever, one wishes him the best, and patience will be the watch-word, and so on and so forth – but having witnessed Lamela, Lucas, Bergwijn and Gil all try their luck in these wide-ish attacking positions, my enthusiasm for another off the production line is a little muted.

5. Non-Purchases

The failed attempts to snaffle Traore and Luis Diaz, while rather embarrassing, seem hardly calamitous.

The Traore affair struck me as good for a chuckle rather than having any obvious, analytical merit. Here was a chap who in the first place was undoubtedly muscular, and seemed nigh on unstoppable whenever he played against us. So far so good, one might suggest.

Get down to the nitty-gritty however, and a few plot-holes seemed to emerge. For all his muscles and love of a direct approach to attacking life, his end-product seemed pretty wild – and having sat through half a season of Emerson Royal’s struggles to deliver just one adequate cross from the right, I’m not sure Traore and his blast-it-anywhere approach is quite the remedy we’re after.

Moreover, the fellow is not a defender, and while Conte has some history of alchemy in this respect (Exhibit A, Victor Moses), the whole thing leaves me pretty sanguine about missing out on him.

As for Diaz, my Porto-dwelling chum Hawth has for some time been raving about the fellow’s attributes, and it is not hard to see why, so this one does rankle a tad. Even here though, the blow is softened considerably by the fact that Diaz earns his weekly wage in exactly the same position as one Son Heung-Min Esquire. So while the ignominy of rejection is again hard to swallow, this particular plot-twist did not exactly leave us any worse off than a month prior.

More of a frustration at AANP Towers is the passing of yet another transfer window without a sniff of a worthy understudy to that rotter Harry Kane. Lovely though it is to see Kane returning to his finest fettle in recent weeks, we are yet again left hoping that he navigates the remainder of the season without injury. Sonny, Bergwijn or potentially the new chap Kulusevski could all theoretically deputise on the odd occasion, but lose Kane for, say, six weeks or so and the panic button will be slammed with some gusto.

The failure to bring in another right wing-back is similarly being declared a mis-step by some sages, but in truth I’m rather encouraged by the 45-minute cameo of Matt Doherty against Leicester a few weeks back, so would be all for the chap being given a further stab at the gig, if only to keep Emerson Royal off stage.

6. Lloris

Perhaps the greatest triumph of the window, however, was the retention for the foreseeable future of Monsieur Lloris. It seemed a little bizarre that we even reached the stage that he was free to bat eyelids at other suitors, but Grandmaster Levy and chums move in mysterious ways their wonders to perform, and the moral of the story is that the chap remains ours for a couple more years, so it’s back-slaps and cigars all round.

While Lloris’ standards have taken a few notable wobbles in recent years, this season he has come out swinging, and our lot have looked all the better for it. Nobody is perfect of course, and I still wonder for example whether he might have waved a paw at that Chelsea opener from Ziyech in our last game – but one only has to cast the mind back to Gollini’s bizarre flap against Chelsea a few weeks earlier to realise how grateful we should be that Lloris is prepared to ride off into the sunset with AIA tattooed across his gut.

Categories
Spurs match reports

Chelsea 2-0 Spurs: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. The Formation

Starting at the beginning, Our Glorious Leader set tongues wagging like nobody’s business by penning a teamsheet that suggested he considered the road to success would be paved with six defenders.

Which was certainly eye-catching, but the more I thought about it the more I thought to myself, “Well, why not?” If a man wants to go about the place selecting more and more defenders, then let him. A tad peculiar, and not necessarily one of those fashions I envisage being adopted in every thriving metropolis, but good luck to him. It’s his prerogative after all, and moreover this particular chap has won shiny pots everywhere he’s been.

As it turned out, once events kicked in we did not after all set out with a back-six. In fact, some of us mere mortals watching from afar were having a devil of a time trying to work out quite what our formation was. And crucially, that confusion was not restricted to the viewing gallery, as various cast members seemed similarly unable to grasp the mysteries of the Tactics Board.

As my Spurs-supporting chum Mark pointed out early on in the production, at times it looked like Tanganga was playing at right wing-back and Doherty in a right-sided central midfield role. And while this was more of a temporary mirage, I did follow his thread, namely that a significant proportion of that aforementioned Defensive Six seemed not to strut around the place with the steady assurance of blighters who know exactly where they should and should not be at any given moment. Far from it.

I was particularly ill at ease with the fact that neither full-back appeared to have been informed that there were only two centre-backs inside them, rather than the usual three. Understandable of course, as every episode of Conte-ball to date has featured a back-three, but nevertheless. It was a bit ripe to think that neither full-back had been updated. You’d suppose that someone would have a friendly word in the ear.

But not so. Davies and particularly Tanganga appeared a little too willing to scamper up their respective flanks, and Messrs Sessegnon and Doherty, only too glad to have some company, scurried upfield with them. Nice to see them all enjoying themselves of course, but I couldn’t help chew a concerned lip each time it happened. To the notion of covering the vast yawning expanses left behind them, not a lick of thought appeared to be given.

As a result, in those early knockings we were treated to the unholy sight of Sanchez disappearing off to the left-back position like a moth to a flame, while Eric Dier, a man whose defensive reputation has been re-established in recent months largely on the back of shouting and not really having to move around too much, suddenly found himself having to scurry this way and that as if one man entrusted with the job of three.

Mercifully, in Lukaku Chelsea have one of those forwards who one might charitably say needs a little time for all the moving parts to function with any synchronicity, so we were spared any early embarrassment.

And then, in what should go down as a feather in the cap of Signor Conte, our lot gradually realised that the 4-4-2 expected of them was not in fact a riddle scrawled in a hitherto undiscovered dialect of hieroglyphics, but a fairly straightforward set-up.

And, once a small fire had been doused by the deployment of Hojbjerg as a seventh defender, I started to hum myself an upbeat little ditty, in celebration of the fact that from open play at least, we were nullifying Chelsea’s best efforts, and near enough cantering to half-time.

2. Disallowed Goal

And when Kane popped the ball into the bottom corner shortly before half-time, I half expected to see Conte stroking a white cat on his lap while letting out a maniacal laugh. The plan, it appeared, was working perfectly (if one overlooked those initial teething problems of the geographically-challenged full-backs).

But of course, this being Tottenham Hotspur, plans rarely work perfectly. Just when one thinks the plans are working perfectly, you can bet your last penny that either one dashed thing or another will appear from nowhere to cause a fresh headache. And in this instance it was the decision to disallow Kane’s goal.

Now regulars in this part of the world will now that the mantra hammered into me from my youth by my old man, AANP Senior, has been that the referee is always right. And having had the pleasure of watching today’s proceedings in the company of this same cheery soul, I was inclined to bite the lip rather than vent when the goal was disallowed. One knows one’s audience, and on this occasion I sensed that my complaints would meet with limited sympathy.

But AANP Senior does not go in for the words I pen on these pages (“I don’t understand a word you say” is the official reason given), so it is with freedom of indignation that I fling up my hands and howl into the night sky about that so-called foul.

One accepts, of course, that plenty of wiser minds than mine have taken one look at the incident and calmly adjudged it a transgression. Misguided stuff, of course, but one tolerates the views of one’s fellow man. One big happy family, and all that rot.

And similarly, one accepts that if Player A places a hand, palm first, on the back of Player B, and Player B collapses to earth as if hit by an RPG from a war-zone, then Player A runs the risk of a red line being drawn through all his fine work elsewhere. And there can be no doubt that Kane (Player A in the incident above, lest you were wondering) did indeed have his hand on the back of the dastardly Thiago.

But at this point I rather feel that the whole argument collapses – much like Thiago when receiving a gentle palm to the back – because consistency would dictate that every Palm-to-Back contact results in a foul. And if that were the case, then so be it, but we might all want to prepare ourselves for games in which fouls were given every thirty seconds.

I haven’t exactly studied these things academically, but I’m willing to suggest that every time two players convene to thrash out matters on the pitch, one will at some point place a delicate palm somewhere upon the frame of the other. And by today’s precedent, such villainy is not allowed. (One dare not even conceive what might happen every time a corner is gently drifted in, given the amount of palm-placement that seems to occur between the protagonists these days.)

You might argue that Chelsea’s superiority simply floated up to the top in the second half, and Spurs goal or not they would inevitably have bested us. And my lips are certainly sealed on the point of who was the better team. Not a murmur of complaint there. But dash it all, to disallow a goal for such a frivolous thing was just not cricket, and denied our lot the advantage that we had worked pretty hard to engineer.

3. Bergwijn

If you scoured these pages after the glorious finale at Leicester in midweek, and raised an eyebrow at the absence of mention for the undoubted hero of the piece, I can only assume you are even more bemused that I single out the same S. Bergwijn Esq. for praise after today’s game.

And yet, here we are. In the first half in particular, as the game settled into its pattern and Conte’s masterplan gradually began to emerge into view, young Bergwijn struck me as one of the most important cogs out there.

Sonny obviously pulls rank when it comes to such matters as providing the whirring blur of legs in support of Kane; and in the absence of Son it is now pretty well accepted that the honour falls to Lucas.

So for Bergwijn to get the nod over Lucas today was a call of some note from Our Glorious Leader. It was a plot thread that admittedly got somewhat buried beneath the outrage of Six Defender-Gate, but was nevertheless fairly hot stuff.

One saw the logic. The romantics in the audience would presumably not have had it any other way, after Bergwijn’s midweek exploits, and moreover the murmur from the inner sanctum seemed to be that Lucas had sustained some form of cracked fingernail that needed attending, thereby reducing his value as a starter.

But I don’t mind admitting to letting out – or do I mean taking in? – a sharp breath at seeing Bergwijn named as Principal Supporting Act in attack. In a game like this, and, frankly, after a Tottenham career like his, it was a decision not without a fair splash of risk.

As it turned out, I need not have worried. Bergwijn turned out to be the most potent weapon on the pitch, in the first half at least. Evidently willing to do all the running on Kane’s behalf, he enthusiastically popped up whenever we had the merest sniff of a counter-attack, marrying his pace and energy with a pretty impressive touch.

The general way of things meant that by and large we didn’t spend a great deal of time over halfway, but whenever we did sneak possession and hare into the Chelsea half, Bergwijn seemed to be the chap carrying the greatest threat.

Alas, the mood became a lot more sombre in the second half, as the Chelsea goals rather blew our counter-attacking plans out of the water. Bergwijn’s effectiveness duly diminished, but it was nevertheless good to see the chap indicate that his repertoire includes more than simply the role of Impact Substitute.

4. Sessegnon

In closing, a note on young Sessegnon.

While I can hardly claim to have been an expert on his Fulham days, one does of course hear rumours around the camp-fire, and the consensus on signing the young bean was that we had ourselves a decent young mucker. On top of which, the arrival of Conte and his cherished faith in wing-backs would have seemed to suggest that opportunity did not so much knock for Sessegnon as clatter through the door and proclaim that his moment had arrived.

In this context, I must admit to have let slip a few pretty underwhelmed sighs each time Sessegnon was called upon to clear his throat and bellow out a few show-tunes.

Early days of course, and one hopes he’ll have plenty of time and numerous opportunities to find his bearings and un-muddle his feet, but at the moment the blighter does not appear to have the faintest clue, at any given point in any given game, of whether he is coming or going. And I can’t think of anything that would hinder a chap more.

His tackling hits a sweet spot between being poorly-judged and poorly-timed; his passing appears errant; and I do not recall a successful dribble. More positively, he does appear the sort who likes a foot-race, and that’s an asset that ought to come in handy in weeks (and dare I say years) to come. At present, however, we appear to have on the pay-roll not so much an unpolished diamond as a lump of coal.

To repeat, one assumes that in time he will restore himself to the former glories on which his reputation was built. Today, however, as in most of his previous appearances this season, the poor fellow floundered somewhat.

Categories
Spurs match reports

Leicester 2-3 Spurs: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Midfield Three

A day later it is with a steadier – if throbbing – head that I pore over this one. The first point of note was that the formation – and specifically the use of a midfield three – struck oil.

For clarity, that midfield three read, from west to east:
– Hojbjerg (advancing)
– Winks (sitting)
– Skipp (advancing)

When Leicester had possession, this triumvirate seemed keen not to be any further than about ten yards from one another, presumably under careful instruction rather than simply a gnawing loneliness, and the effect was to narrow the gaps through which Leicester could operate. It was not fool-proof – Leicester did construct two perfectly serviceable goals by penetrating this outer crust – but in general that midfield gang provided a handy first line of defence.

Their real value, however, came in the other direction.

Young Master Skipp is a man of many talents, but I must confess that I had never numbered amongst these any particular capability in the field of galloping forward adventurously into the final third. And yet there he was, in glorious technicolour, trading in every last breath from his lungs in order to avail himself in a rather niche but surprisingly effective inside-right sort of position. It was not so much what he did with the ball that attracted the admiring glance, as the positions he took up in making himself available. Be it for Emerson on the right-hand touchline or Kane dropping deep, Skipp took seriously this role of Main Supporting Actor On The Right, and it contributed strongly to our general dominance.

In a slightly less energetic manner, Hojbjerg chipped in similarly in and around the inside-left channel, and all the while Winks held fort at the base of things (and also took a whole procession of some of the best corners I can remember from our lot).

As one would expect, a Hojbjerg – Winks – Skipp combo was a tad light on effervescent creativity, these particular beans preferring to shuffle things along in orderly fashion rather than scythe apart anyone in opposing colours. And yet nevertheless, first Skipp (in intercepting) and then Winks (in his excellently-weighted assist) put pretty much all the bricks and mortar in place for our first goal; Hojbjerg’s vision carved out our second; and Hojbjerg was at the base of things for our third as well, in intercepting the original Leicester pass.

It has not gone unnoticed that arguably our two finest performances of the fledgling Conte era have come in a 3-5-2 formations (Liverpool at home, lest ye be racking the brain). In this latest instance, the switch to 3-5-2 was forced somewhat by the absence of Sonny, and his return would prompt the ghastly question of whether Lucas ought to be relegated in order to maintain the 3-5-2. For now, however, we might as well just continue the ongoing period of basking, and enjoy the fact that the formation tweak and use of a midfield three worked out in pretty splendid fashion.

2. Doherty

If there were one failing in the first half it was that Emerson Royal was being Emerson Royal. There are worse things he could have been of course, and being Emerson Royal does not automatically make one a hindrance to operations; but nevertheless, it does limit forward-looking options – and by extension this slightly neuters the entire, carefully-constructed mechanism.

In plain English, our formation under Conte depends heavily on the wing-backs to motor into the final third and produce things of value once there. And there appears to be something lurking deep within the core of Emerson Royal that, for now at least, prevents him flinging off the shackles and living the riotous life of a wing-back with unfettered joy and gay brio.

Instead, having adopted the requisite positions north of halfway, Emerson’s life seems to grind to a halt, and those around him often seem to decide it best to carry on with things as if he weren’t actually there at all.

Bizarrely enough, it took the introduction of Matt Doherty of all people, to introduce a few rays of sunshine to the right wing-back position.

My surprise at this development can be readily explained. Doherty is the sort of egg whose lilywhite career to date has been so crushingly underwhelming that I rarely utter his name without the prefix “Poor Old”, or “That Wretched”, or even sometimes a choice of words less family-friendly. Whenever he has popped up on the right, the complexities of a life in football have generally seemed to overwhelm him, with the result that every choice he has made has been the wrong one.

(In an act of generosity I’ll spare him too much comment on those rather ghastly visits he’s had to endure to the left wing, as these are not his fault.)

Yesterday, however, as soon as he took to the field, Doherty seemed to stumble upon some unlikely alchemy for the role of right wing-back, and scarcely able to believe his luck made the decision simply to roll with it for as long as he could.

His very first involvement was a series of one-twos with Kane that seemed to blow the minds of all Leicester folk in the vicinity; and from that moment on he clearly decided that he was on a good thing in charging into the final third, and kept returning to that particular well for more.

Positionally, this was a choice stuffed with goodness. At any given point at which we attacked, it became an accepted truth that Doherty would be motoring up the right, and
one only had to glance the laziest of eyes in that direction to nail down his coordinates.

Crucially, however, in addition simply to being in useful places, Doherty also produced a flurry of half-decent crosses. Some were admittedly plucked out of the sky without too much inconvenience by Schmeichel, and others just missed their mark, but it nevertheless made a pleasant change to see such crosses being delivered at all, aerially and towards the back-post, rather than simply slammed into the first functioning opponent.

And Doherty’s spirit of adventure was ultimately critical in bringing about our equaliser, by dint of creating a sufficient nuisance for the ball to end up obligingly at Bergwijn’s size nines. Admittedly he lost possession and fell to earth at the crucial juncture, but fortune favoured him, and defeat turned into victory.

Might this prove a turning-point for the chap?

3. Kane

I noted in the home leg against Chelsea last week that that rotter Harry Kane appeared to have rediscovered his old swagger, and as if to hammer home the point he actively sought out every opportunity to showcase it last night. In fact, if anything, he rather overdid it at times. By the midway point of the second half one wanted to take him by the hand, give him a calming pat or two and point out that we were all now fully aware of his resurgence, and he really did not need to belt the ball as hard as he could into the stands at every opportunity.

However, the occasional misguided long-range swipe is part of the overall package of a Harry Kane brimming with confidence, as he genuinely seems convinced that he can do anything. While he will never, ever take even a half-threatening free-kick, everything else in his bag of tricks looked mightily impressive yesterday.

The headline acts of course were his goal, executed like the most seasoned assassin, and his pass to for Bergwijn to seal the win, spotted and delivered with huge bundles of aplomb.

However, two moments alone a highlights reel might make, but hardly tell the whole story. And the whole story was loosely along the lines that almost every time he touched the ball he did something useful with it, and that he played a pretty primary role in much that was good about our lot. And when you consider that our lot were on top for at least a good hour of the ninety, it reflects even more impressively on the chap.

His hold-up play, choices of when to drop deep and passes to bring in others for fifteen minutes of fame were all pretty wisely selected and effected. Moreover, in hitting the bar and having one cleared off the line he did almost enough to claim a hat-trick that few could really have begrudged him. Cracking stuff from a man back at the top of his game.

4. Sanchez

One of the oddities of last night was the fact that Davinson Sanchez looked oddly assured for the most part. Admittedly one might point to a needless lunge by the touchline to earn a caution, and the fact that he was wrong-footed for the second Leicester goal, and these would be fair points – the blighter was not faultless.

Nevertheless, having been inadvertently promoted, by virtue of injuries first to Romero and then Dier, from fourth choice centre-back to leader of the pack, a conclusion that nobody in their right mind would ever will into reality, he seems to have shrugged his shoulders, accepted his lot and started to make a decent fist of it.

It might be that he simply looks more impressive given that next to him resides young Tanganga, who while full of promise has looked in recent weeks like a man terrified of his own shadow. But much to my astonishment Sanchez showed authority, strength and pretty good judgement yesterday.

He even occasionally strolled out of defence with the ball at his feet. The enormity of this ought not to be underplayed, for in almost every previous lilywhite appearance he has danced around the ball as if scared that it will suddenly develop legs and attack him.

If I were a betting man I might stick a few bob on the name Sanchez being ridiculed in weeks to come on these very pages, but last night he took on responsibility within that back three, and at the very least that deserves acknowledgement.