All Action, No Plot

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Man City 4-3 Spurs: Five Tottenham Observations

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

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

1. Nerves Shredded To Dust

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And yet.

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

3. Full-Back Struggles

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

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

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

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

4. The Famous Soft Tottenham Underbelly

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

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

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

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

5. That Finale

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

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

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

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

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Spurs 4-0 Huddersfield: Five Tottenham Observations

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1. The Ongoing Evolution of Sissoko

Convention usually dictates in such exalted circumstances as these that the celebratory fizzy pop commemorating the Man of the Match be bestowed upon the scorer of the hat-trick. Being the anarchic type however, I am willing to question the validity of such a call, for there were a couple of other notable performances.

Moussa Sissoko has been long established as a pretty vital cog in this machine, and the improvement in his doings continues with each game. He now really is emerging as the heir to Dembele’s throne, no longer simply a barely-connected bundle of limbs, but now offering a regular injection of energy in bringing the ball forward from halfway in irresistible fashion.

Admittedly he does not possess the grace and finesse of Dembele, but he is nevertheless jolly effective in what he does. And in fact, pretty much his first touch of the ball today – a 360 degree pirouette away from trouble – displayed a hitherto unseen finesse that set the tone for his performance thereafter.

Where once we would turn to Dembele to bring the ball forward and defy all attempts to displace him, now Sissoko performs that role with some relish. In a game in which we spent much of proceedings simply keeping possession and toying with Huddersfield, Sissoko’s forward forays were a regular threat.

2. Llorente Channels His Inner Teddy

Another fellow whose afternoon was full of right and proper content was Senor Llorente. As vocal a critic as I generally am of the chap’s limited mobility, I am also a swooning admirer of his velvet touch, particularly when cushioning passes into the path of chums, and he delivered several dollops of the good stuff today.

There was something of the Sheringham about him, as there often is when he is on song. He as often as not plays the way he faces, and if that means he has his back to goal and is going to dab the ball whence it came, into the gallop of an onrushing support act, then he will dashed well do so.

In hindsight I think Llorente benefited more than most from the early two-goal biff that effectively ended the competitive nature of the game. Where the elongated bean often labours, with the weight of the world on his shoulders as he feels the pressure of deputising for Kane, the fact that the game was won so early had a delightfully liberating effect upon him, and he simply pottered around enjoying himself.

As well as his link-up play with back to goal, he also sniffed around at chances like nobody’s business, with a couple of flicked headers indicating that the compass was in decent working order, and a couple of shots from his size elevens requiring the flailing of various Huddersfield limbs to deny him.

Most impressive was his gorgeous control and clipped shot off the bar, early in the second half, which demonstrated a touch that was about as silky as they came. Dashed shame that that did not go in, but by and large it was a handy old stab at things.

3. The Good and Bad of Juan Foyth

The very public education of Juan Foyth continues apace, with all the usual trademarks on show. It made perfect sense to choose an occasion such as this to continue to blood the young imp, with Huddersfield offering only minimal threat throughout. For the majority of proceedings, young Foyth crossed defensive t’s and dotted defensive i’s with that usual appearance of assurance. The meat and veg of defending, he generally got right.

The problems seem to occur more once he’s already won the ball, and the elaborate process of deciding what action to take next begins unwinding in his mind. Oh, that the little voices simply whispered to him to release the ball to the nearest lilywhite shirt and be done. Instead, Foyth will typically ignore the cause of sanity, and be seduced by delusions of grandeur that see him eagerly try to start attacks, cure cancer and solve Brexit.

The notion that opponents might try to rob him off the ball seems the last thing on his mind, and so today he was occasionally the victim of many an attempted tackle while weighing up distribution options, or attempting to shoulder-drop and Cruyff-turn his way out of slightly precarious spots.

However, his decision-making will improve with experience – games like today undoubtedly will help – and in time, his combination of defensive solidity and ability to bring the ball forward ought to make him quite the asset. A tip of the cap too, for his instigation of our second goal.

4. Delightful Finishing

The sight of four well-taken goals certainly added a dash of class to proceedings.

Moura’s first and third harked back to a glorious, simpler age, in which boots were black, games kicked off at 3pm and goals were scored by blasting the ball with every ounce of strength. They were joyous to behold, and struck with the sort of pure technique that makes you want to add an extra splash to your afternoon restorer.

Wanyama’s nifty footwork also merits praise, for as Sissoko demonstrated in gory detail at Anfield recently, these chaps who are unused to the heady heights of the opposition box can get themselves into an awful muddle when through on goal.

No such trouble for Wanyama, who danced his way in with the assuredness of a seasoned goalscorer. And all the more important for being the opening goal, struck early. Serene though the whole affair might have been, our nerves may have jangled a couple of bars had we reached, say, the half-time mark or beyond without a goal.

5. A Triumph for Squad Rotation

Easy to say in hindsight, but Our Glorious Leader certainly judged his team selection to perfection. With injuries to Messrs Kane, Alli and Winks a degree of prodding and poking was already required, and while the rotating of full-backs was standard Pochettino fare, the additional omissions of Toby and Sonny did prompt a rather nervous chew of the lower AANP lip. The thought flitted across the mind that this might be one tweak too many.

A nonsense, as it transpired. All involved performed creditably enough, the game was sewn up in double-quick time and the cherished limbs of Toby and Sonny were protected from any prospective rough and tumble.

Many a sagacious type has suggested that while our Starting XI is a match for most, our squad depth verges somewhat on the lightweight, and I suppose in comparison to some of our cash-rich rivals this has a degree of truth to it. However, conscientious types like Davies, Walker-Peters, Wanyama, Foyth, Sanchez, Lucas and Llorente have comfortably have enough to best bottom-of-the-table rot, and as gambles go, this one proved one of the safest in town.

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Spurs 1-0 Man City: Five Tottenham Observations

1. A Marvellous Team Effort

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Lloris

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

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

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

3. Sonny Saves Augments The Day

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

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

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

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

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

4. Eriksen

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

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

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

5. VAR

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

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

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

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

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

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Liverpool 2-1 Spurs: Five Tottenham Observations

For goodness’ sake, dash it all. Is there a more galling way to lose than through a last-minute own-goal, when you’ve actually done enough to win the thing?

Despite every element of it being perfectly above board and within the rules, this somehow feels like a gross injustice – not least because we should have been a couple of goals ahead by the time the clock rumbled over to 90.

1. Much Improved Performance. So That’s Nice.

It’s now one point from fifteen, which officially qualifies as Dreadful Form, but at contrast to the four preceding games, this one at least came with a performance that, for the second half at least, was pretty impressive fare.

Once the necessary tweaks had been made to the tactical levers and pulleys, our heroes rattled along with something approaching rhythm, pinging neat first-time passes and shimmying around in sprightly manner off the ball, which always makes for a winning combo. At one-nil down we took the game to Liverpool and gave them a thing or two over which to chew; and at one-one we looked particularly nifty on the counter, and really ought to have sewn the thing up with a few deliveries to spare.

2. Tactics, Tactics

Pre-game, much of the nattering at AANP Towers had been doleful recollections of how in previous games against the Top Six this season – including Liverpool at home – our wing-backs have flown off as far up the pitch as physics allows, leaving enough greenery behind them to set up a small farm and live off the land, and opponents have duly taken advantage like nobody’s business.

Consequently I barely dared to look at the set-up from the opening toot yesterday, for fear of what fresh hell might unfold. As it happened however, our lot went to the other extreme, with Rose and Trippier erring so far on the side of caution that at times the defence resembled a string of five centre-backs. With Sissoko’s ball-carrying neutered by the instruction to sit in front of the back-three and protect, matters were pretty decidedly awry, and Liverpool’s attacking full-backs had a whale of a time.

Credit to Our Glorious Leader then, from his lofty perch, for adjusting first to a 5-4-1 out of possession, and then to a 4-4-2. The Liverpool wide threat was largely neutered, and our lot began to impose themselves.

Our equaliser was thoroughly merited, and had any one of Eriksen, Dele or the wild shooting boots of dear old Sissoko converted the second half chances that came their way, I suspect most right-minded observers would have deemed matters perfectly reasonable, and given the green light. Which makes the wretched finale all the more galling, but such are the vicissitudes of life, dash it all.

3. Lucas: A Handy Contribution

By and large, Lucas Moura has underwhelmed a tad when introduced from the bench this season. Way back in August he was awarded one of those awfully modern Player of the Month awards, on the back of a match-winning dazzle at Old Trafford and a fistful of other handy contributions while those around him shook off the jet-lag from their World Cup adventures.

Since then, the starting nod alongside Kane has tended to be for Sonny, or occasionally Lamela, and Lucas has been shoved on as something as an afterthought for the dying embers.

At Anfield however, with Sonny having racked up enough midweek air-miles to travel to the moon, Lucas was in from the start, and immediately looked like he had a thing or two to tell the locals, and didn’t care how it would be received. It would be stretching things to say he ran the Liverpool back-line ragged, but he certainly carried bundles of whizz and pop every time he touched the ball, and he merited his goal.

4. Errors At The Back

Here in this corner of the interweb we have never been averse to a spot of pedantry, so while it might seem churlish to shine a great glaring light upon the marginal defensive errors that cost us the game, someone has to kick up a stink about these things.

Exhibit A was Kieran Trippier’s delicately-executed hokey-cokey in the first half, as he went in, and out, and in, and out again, when faced with Robertson and ball. The net effect was that the opponent was thoroughly untroubled, and obliged by swinging in a peach of a cross that was nodded in for Liverpool’s opener.

Worth noting that Exhibit A during the game happened to be something like Exhibit J or K or so, in Trippier’s own personal Case For The Prosecution This Season, because his performances since the World Cup have been littered with defensive errors. (He does deliver a wicked cross when up the other end of the pitch though.)

A pedant might point to Danny Rose’s half-moment of ball-watching at the death as Exhibit B, as this allowed Mo Salah to deliver his fateful header.

Exhibit C, however, was Monsieur Lloris’ nonsense of a non-save. It seems to be quite the fashion amongst the young folk who bear the mitts and stand between the posts these days to push and punch and do everything but catch the blasted ball. It’s an absolute blight upon society, and Lloris deserves a good thrashing for such wispy nonsense.

On top of which, his errant clearance actually sat neatly at the root cause of the opening goal we conceded. The time to look at other goalkeeping options has arrived.

5. Danny Rose Popping Up Everywhere

Danny Rose, once he had been sucked out of the ultra-defensive mode that saw him glued to the back-three in the early stages, did what Danny Rose does, and took it upon himself to forage forward with that familiar, angry air of one who is being continually wronged. It makes for splendid viewing.

Rose was then indulged in his preference for a full-time placement further up the field, as we emerged in the second half in a shiny 4-4-2, of which he played left midfield. This naturally played to his strengths, and reminds us also that we should be grateful for the flexibility of my personal chum Jan Vertonghen.

Not that Rose’s dalliance in midfield lasted too long, as he ended up back at left-back once Sonny arrived, but I do quite enjoy seeing him being unleashed in midfield, even if he does start to think he’s Pele and take on all-comers.

And as a valedictory point, the highlight of AANP’s day was arguably the gorgeous cross-field ball from Kane to pick out Trippier in the build-up to the equaliser. Quibblers have duly insisted that the ball was rolling – whether it should have stood or not, it was a ping of the highest quality. Allied to his hold-up play when dropping deep, and his robotic scoring ability, the man’s talents are mind-boggling.

One would hope our heroes take the spirit of the second half here, as well as any perceived injustice about the ultimate nature of the demise, and unleash it in the spanking new bowl on Wednesday.

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Burnley 2-1 Spurs: Four Tottenham Observations

1. Dreadful

I don’t mind admitting that my eyes bled profusely on watching 90 minutes of that rot. Never mind losing a perfectly winnable game to a team drifting along in the nondescript rushes; the quality of the fare was utterly dreadful.

From the off it reminded me of my days playing amateur level Old Boys football on pitches boasting barely a blade of grass, in which the ball spent the majority of the game either rising into or dropping from orbit, with barely more than three passes strung together at any one time. Thus was the brand peddled yesterday by our heroes.

I must confess to having surveyed proceedings from the comfort of the AANP sofa rather than the Burnley terraces, so could not testify with any first-hand knowledge to the actual conditions faced, but the tellybox gave the distinct impression that something of a gale was blowing, and to say our lot struggled to adapt would be to submit a pretty robust entry for Understatement of the Year. If there was a five-yard pass on offer, one of our mob could be relied upon to misplace it; if the ball was in the vicinity, you could bet your life on one of our mob miscontrolling it. ‘Sloppiness’ seemed to be epithet on everyone’s lips, and Burnely, understandably enough, lapped it up.

There were intermittent periods in which we patiently shuttled the ball back in forth in search of a nook or cranny, but on the whole our heroes simply did not get into gear, and hardly created a chance all match. Gallingly, once we equalised, and with around half an hour to eke out a winner, we barely made it to the Burnley penalty area.

2. Refereeing Decisions

The mantra here at AANP Towers has long been to do the chivalrous thing by refereeing decisions, and accept them with stiff upper lip and not a mumbled word of dissent. And while Our Glorious Leader had the air of a man with a meaty list of quibbles come the final whistle yesterday, and thrust himself into the face of the officials to suggests as such, I was more inclined to shrug the whole thing off as part of life’s rich tapestry.

Getting down to the meat and veg, it seemed to this untrained eye that for the corner that led to the opening Burnley goal, one might objectively opine that the ball came off the Burnley player last. Be that as it may, the ref awarded a corner, and a corner is therefore what it was.

For the throw-in that led to the equalising lilywhite goal, one might subjectively opine that the throw was taken from the wrong spot, the sort of call which is very much open to interpretation, and tends to be waved on as long as nothing of note accrues. Be that as it may, the ref deemed it perfectly above board, and perfectly above board is therefore what it was.

That’s the AANP tuppence worth, and the eagle-eyed will note that both teams benefited to the tune of one pretty fortunate decision each, which some might suggest is enough to render all pedantry pretty null and void. Far more bothersome to the AANP eye was the defending that allowed Burnley to score from their corner; or the general manner in which our football petered away to nothing for the 25 minutes or so after we’d equalised. This game was not lost because of refereeing decisions, dash it.

3. Foyth: No Obvious Signs of Improvement

One is generally reluctant to chide the honest young troops sent out each game to try their damnedest, because nobody drops a catch on purpose, to coin a cricketing phrase. However, there are inspirational mantras, and then there is Juan Foyth.

In time the earnest young bean might morph into the second coming of the blessed Ledley; but in the here and now the chap bears the hallmarks of one has been removed from the oven still decidedly uncooked in parts, and it showed, yet again, yesterday. Be it complacency, poor judgement, naivety or just plain ineptitude, Foyth seemed to blend equal measures of the satisfactory and the suicidal into his defending, and those proportions are pretty much doomed to failure in the unforgiving world of Premier League centre-backery.

Just about every Foyth appearance is characterised thus, risky Cruyff-turns mixed with egregious errors. Poch’s faith in his youthful charges is to be lauded, but Foyth’s propensity for the groan-inducing is becoming one heck of a cause for concern.

4. Kane: A Machine

On the bright side, Harry Kane returned, and without looking at his rapier-like best, was nevertheless, in occasional bursts, quite the handful. This being the occasion that merited it, he dropped deep to spread passes hither and thither, and his long-distance effort in the second half had the regulars going a little misty-eyed.

As for his goal, it was Kane of the very highest order – somehow running with the ball with pace and purpose without ever looking like a natural, and then finishing clinically before the watching masses had truly registered that a chance had officially been created.

The chap is an absolute machine. He recovers from injury as one would expect a machine to do; and once on the pitch he hares around and does that for which is he employed with pretty ruthless efficiency. It was all for naught yesterday, but with Chelsea and Arsenal looming a fit and goalscoring Kane is a most welcome addition.

Spurs 3-0 Dortmund: Five Tottenham Observations

1. Rip-Roaring Stuff – After An Ominous Beginning

Heavens above, who saw that coming? This being AANP Towers, the mood ahead of kick-off was, naturally enough, about as gloomy and pessimistic as these things come, what with one thing (Kane and Dele absences) and another (Dortmund being 5 points clear in Germany).

And that first half did little to brighten the mood. Our lot approached it as something akin to the early stages of a chess match, in which a lot of harmless toddling is done in defence, but no incisions of note are made (bar the dreamy Moura volley out of the blue).

I suppose it made for terrific viewing for fans of centre-backs, as Our Glorious Leader indulged in his own private game of stuffing as many as he could onto the pitch, but the net result was a heck of a lot of sideways passing between the back three, as Dortmund stepped back and squeezed every last inch of space out of midfield. The lilywhite cup did not overfloweth with attacking options.

Moreover, whereas the sum of our endeavours was a countless stream of sideways passing between Messrs Sanchez, Toby and Foyth, Dortmund hit upon the idea of racing into the gaps behind our full-backs and letting that scamp Sancho ooze with the menace of a chap with his finger on the trigger. As the protagonists trooped off for half-time refreshment, the chin-stroking amongst the paying public was of the lugubrious variety.

2. A Love Note To My Best Mate Jan

Goodness knows what pearls of wisdom were imparted at half-time, but I suggest they be recited every morning in classrooms and offices across the country, by law and as a matter of urgency.

“Tactical tweak” seemed to be the buzzword, although I must confess that here the mechanics of the thing were rather lost on me, as the only alteration I spotted was the slightly physics-defying move of having our wing-backs both drop deep into a back-five, to counter Sancho and his whirring legs of wizardry, and simultaneously to push those same wing-backs right up the throats of Dortmund, to act as auxiliary wingers. So, in effect, fielding thirteen players.

Whatever the nature of the sorcery, it worked. Our heroes flew out of the traps, and once Dortmund had altered their game-plan to accept 1-0 we stumbled upon the brainwave of scoring enough goals to take the tie away from them.

As seasoned visitors to this parish may be aware, whether he knows it or not Jan Vertonghen is what I consider a bosom-friend, our paths having crossed a couple of times in the last year. I am therefore modestly willing to accept the credit for his transformation from solid, dependable centre-back to flying, all-action winger, and, no doubt benefiting from my inspiration, the chap delivered an absolute belter of a performance out on the left.

Be it harassing the life out of the Dortmund right-back – thereby forcing him and his chums onto the backfoot – making himself available, intercepting or swinging an array of crosses into that sensitive spot in the penalty area that has goalkeeper and centre-backs nervously looking at one another for a spot of authoritative command, Vertonghen ticked the boxes like a man possessed. And then chipped in with the ghosting run and finish of a seasoned striker.

3. Sonny Delivers Yet Again

The absences of Kane and Dele had weighed heavily upon my heart pre-match, and little I saw in the first half changed that sentiment, but where there is Sonny there is hope. Admittedly there was not an uninhabited ounce of turf for him to excitedly buzz into in the first 45, but this is a chap who emerged from the womb scampering into space, so it was little surprise that his enthusiasm remained undimmed by the first half travails.

Naturally he was the catalyst for the second half rout, and while Llorente has done his bit, and the stars of Moura and Lamela intermittently burn bright, it is Sonny who has embraced the role of General Saviour Of Our Skins in the absence of Kane.

Mercifully there now follows a 10-day intermission, at least half of which I would expect Son to spend simply asleep, because the chap has run himself into the ground for us ever since presumably running himself into the ground for his country.

4. Sissoko The Elder Statesman

It is a sign of the times that in our biggest games we can now fairly confidently shift our glances to the right in expectation of another towering performance from Sissoko, and he will deliver.

In the lamented absence of Dembele, he is now emerging as the sort of chap who can pick up the ball inside his own half and set off on an irresistible gallop. What he lacks in aesthetic finesse, he more than makes up for in effectiveness, and at various points he trotted out his usual blend of in-possession forward strides and out-of-possession harrying.

For all the talent in our team, we still occasionally look a little short of those types who will grab the nearest bayonet, sprint to the front-line and lead by example, even more so in the absence of Kane, but Sissoko is beginning to emerge as one of those dependable bods, an elder statesmen to whom others can turn and goggle.

5. Winks Steps Up

Young Winks has earned himself the occasional critical arching of the eyebrow from this quarter in recent weeks, for being a little too risk-averse and light on carpe-ing the nearest diem.

Last night, however, he nailed absolutely every bullet point on the job description. He made it a matter of professional obligation to keep possession in the first half, when others around him were becoming increasingly frustrated at the lack of options and occasionally sending passes awry; and then in the second half he straddled the line perfectly between playing safe and pushing us forward.

With a little more space within which to operate in the second half, he was always the first option available to our centre-backs, and once in possession took a leaf out of the Christian Eriksen Book of Picking Appropriate Passes, be they short ones backwards or of the more adventurous variety further north.

To do all this against a team of pretty illustrious ilk was thigh-slapping stuff – and indeed, that sentiment can apply to just about every member in lilywhite. It might not have been flawless – Messrs Foyth and Aurier will presumably have mumbled a prayer or two of thanks for some lucky escapes – but that second half in particular was fabulous, sensible and devastatingly effective stuff.

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Spurs 3-1 Leicester: Five Tottenham Observations

1. Skipp

With various A-listers still quarantined, and Dortmund looming fast into view, Poch yet again dipped into his box of selection tricks, and this term emerged with young Master Skipp in midfield, with Sonny and Llorente upfront.
Now young Skipp may in time prove to be world football’s natural heir to Andres Iniesta, but this afternoon’s performance was not the one to secure him amongst the pantheon of greats.

In theory I suppose he did little wrong, for every time one of our number were in possession around the centre circle, young Skipp would station himself about three yards away and demand the ball. While this was a noble enough approach to life, in practice it actually served precious little benefit. At best he would receive the ball while practically standing on top of the passer – and while facing the opposite direction. Play was not spread, pressure was not relieved, life’s problems were not solved.

In his defence poor old Skipp drew the short straw, for that spot on the left of the midfield diamond has proved a tricky one to fill to date for even more seasoned pros. Sissoko seems to have mastered the art on the right – and peddled an impressive line in Messi-esque gliding dribbles today, as if to emphasise the fact – but an equivalent on the left is lacking. Leicester had the better of things in midfield, and for all his youthful scampering Skipp did little to impose himself upon proceedings. Better luck next time.

2. Lloris And The Rarest of Rarities

A penalty save from Hugo Lloris is about as rare in these parts as a left-footed unicorn, but credit where due, our resident last line of defence picked an excellent moment to perform this particular party trick.

Leading we may have been, but Leicester were jousting away with the best of them, and would have been good value for parity if not a lead. At 1-0, conversion of the penalty might have swung the thing pretty ominously towards our visitors, and I for one can hold up my hands and confess I had written off the spot-kick as a fait accompli, and was already contemplating a final half hour with scores level and pressure mounting.

Frankly, in all my years of Spurs-gazing I do not recall seeing Lloris diving into the right postcode when facing a penalty, so I don’t mind admitting I gawped and blinked and rubbed the eyes once or twice before digesting what had transpired.

(As an aside, the award of the penalty itself seemed pretty dashed soft when one compares and contrasts with the similar meeting of limbs that brought about Sonny’s yellow card in the first half. The inconsistency between the two calls prompted no end of grumbling at AANP Towers, but life – and particularly refereeing decisions – will send us these crosses to bear, so best we all just shrug the shoulders and take it with a philosophical smile.)

3. Danny Rose Brings Back The Slide Tackle

Come hail or shine, Danny Rose always blusters around the field as if personally aggrieved at the circumstances in which he has been thrust, and typically with a particular axe to grind against his opposing right-sided attacker.

The attitude is refreshing, as that level of aggression is not really something one would associate with the Tottenham Hotspur of years gone by. Kyle Walker used to possess it in spades, and it generally meant that irrespective of whatever else was happening in the broader geographic area, he was not about to lose his own personal duel. Frankly we could have done with some of it in midfield today, but that’s a chapter for another time.

Entertainingly, Rose’s general foul mood resulted in him deciding that today would be the day to unleash sliding tackles at every given opportunity. It made for some pretty nostalgic viewing, as slide tackles seemed to go the way of all flesh at around the same time as cassettes and shell suits. It was gloriously retro stuff, not least for the looks of outrage etched across the faces of the Leicester nobility deposited on terra firma.

4. Poch On The Defensive

Where normally we hog possession but find ourselves up against a nine-man defence, or super-human ‘keeper, or some combo of the above, today we rather forgot our lines, and spent as much of the game fending off Leicester thrusts as performing those of our own.

As hinted at above, our midfield were at times outfought, not helped by a defence that seemed oddly keen to dabble in the porous. With Skipp failing to impose himself, and Llorente offering his trademark lack of mobility, we occasionally looked like we were down to nine men.

Thank heavens for the stand-out moments of brilliance. Eriksen’s delivery for our first, and precision finish for the second, sandwiching a couple of critical Lloris saves, pretty much won the thing.

Amidst it all, Our Glorious Leader seemed to take an oddly low-key perspective on things, making as many defensive substitutions as the rules permitted as he sought to protect what he had, in a remarkable departure from the all-action-no-plot approach to life.

Hard to fault the approach I suppose (not that that will stop me trying), not least because ultimately we won, but also because the switch to a back-three made sense when Vardy appeared; while the replacement of Llorente with Wanyama, while a little more dull and sensible than the Moura alternative, simply made it more difficult for Leicester to claw things back in the final ten minutes.

5. Making The Best of Life Without Kane and Dele

Having kept a careful eye on these things I can confidently suggest that this was the umpteenth time we have eked our victory this season without playing particularly well, and most satisfying they typically are too.

How the devil we are doing it is something of a curiosity. It would be a mangling of the English language to suggest that we have coped with ease with the absences of Kane and Dele, but we have found ways to edge past Newcastle, Watford and now Leicester. Be it wringing every last drop of value out of Llorente, relying on random moments of Eriksen brilliance or simply pinning the weight of the world upon the dependable shoulders of Sonny, we muddle through.

All that said, I would be pretty amazed if we emerged in credit from the first leg of the Dortmund joust, but in the league at least this has been a pretty critical and thoroughly impressive run of Kaneless success.

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

Spurs 1-0 Newcastle: Four Tottenham Observations

1. Sonny Saves The Day Again

As will be familiar to those who regularly stop by these parts, the AANP take on the midweek win against Newcastle brought peltings with rotten fruit in the Comments section, for the admittedly reckless decision to omit from the list of the venerated Son Heung-Min.

With that in mind, and given that the lively young bean scored the critical goal yesterday, it seems only right to shower him with all manner of praise.

In truth however, through no particular fault of his own, he was a little muted yesterday. The spirit was as willing as ever, as he buzzed hither and thither, and even when at a standstill his legs appeared slightly blurry with movement. Newcastle, however, had been up all night poring over their homework notes, with the result that they swarmed all over Son like he was a homing beacon, and for much of the game he was crowded out.

Mercifully, the chap is fleet of foot, and it is to his credit that he conjured from pretty much nothing a yard of space yesterday, and did not wait for a second invitation to leather the heck out of the ball.

Having flown around the world twice, and been out on his feet at the conclusion of the Newcastle match, Sonny’s contributions, particularly in the absence of Kane and Dele, have bordered on the super-human, injecting moments of inspiration when we have needed them most.

2. Vertonghen’s Exciting Day Out

Our Glorious Leader sticking to his principle that to play a wing-back in consecutive games would be madness of the highest order, and with Davies still absent injured and young Walker-Peters too dashed right-footed, there was a rare day out on the left flank for AANP’s close chum Jan Vertonghen.

As social experiments go it made for interesting viewing. Nature having decreed that any and all useful output should emanate from the chap’s left stem, he was at least appropriately balanced for left-backery. However, Vertonghen is a man of pretty lengthy proportions, sinewy and elegant, well-designed for tackle and stretch, and not necessarily the obvious pick for lung-busting runs along the flank, with chest thrust and muscles throbbing, a la Danny Rose.

It meant that the fellow did not necessarily look entirely at ease as he set about trying to make a fist of the role, life’s accelerations and bursts not coming entirely naturally to the chap.

Not that his team-mates gave the mildest hang about his travails, for the Player X-to-Vertonghen routine seemed a pretty well-rehearsed one, and pretty swiftly became the option of choice as Newcastle barricaded the various other routes to goal.

To his credit, Vertonghen beavered away as instructed, and while his crosses missed as regularly as they hit, he had a decent amount of joy, and gave our heroes a viable option throughout.

His eventual replacement by Rose nevertheless made sense as we switched to 3-5-2 in the closing stages, Rose being more genetically disposed to go hurtling down the flank. All told, the use of Vertonghen as left-back is probably not going to be nailed on for generations to come as the tactical ploy of choice, but for a random joust against a Newcastle mob set upon deep, deep defence it was at least moderately successful.

3. Llorente’s Impact, Again

Having lambasted Llorente whenever the opportunity has presented itself in recent weeks – and on several occasions when no such opportunity has existed, but the urge has simply become too strong – lovers of irony were in their element yesterday as I bemoaned the unfortunate egg’s absence throughout.

With our lot camped outside the Newcastle box, and the entire Newcastle lot camped within, the case for airborne crosses was pretty compelling, and the stage seemed set for Llorente to peddle his wares. Alas, the pairing of choice was Moura and Son, whose prowess on terra firma is unfortunately not matched by any particular renown in the air. A couple of decent headed chances popped the wrong side of the posts, and by and large we were kept at arms length by the massed ranks of Newcastle bodies.

Not to criticise Poch for this particular call, mind. Llorente has been used on a near-constant basis since Kane’s untimely departure, so there was some sense in rotating him out. And one might opine that the plan actually worked to perfection, given that the chap then set up Son’s goal when he was ultimately introduced.

4. Late Goals When Most Needed

So for the umpteenth time this season our heroes have come up with a late, late goal send us all home with a sentiment somewhere on the scale between relief and buoyancy. Much more of this and folk will start accusing us of having mettle and grit and not bottling our affairs.

More serene, comfortable victories would obviously be preferable, but I must confess to a little thrill at the manner in which we can now enter the final furlong still needing a goal but with an underlying sense that actually we might dashed well go and grab one from somewhere.

We almost certainly will not win a trophy this season, but it appears that another string is being added to the lilywhite bow, as we have now become one of those teams who can eke out goals in the dying embers.

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

Spurs 2-1 Watford:

1. The Many Twists and Turns of the Llorente Soap Opera

If Fernando Llorente had been hoping for one of those quiet, drama-free nights that flits swiftly from the memory, he was in for quite the shock.

When the incorrigible old bean contrived to knee the ball over the bar from practically underneath it, the hills were alive with the sound of groans, curses and around thirty thousand palms simultaneously slapping foreheads.

For his own part Llorente did the honourable thing and duly adopted the pose of a man doing his level best to be swallowed up by the earth. More broadly, the omens were not particularly cheery, our heroes still being one goal in debit. The thought began to crystallise that if we were going to escape from this particular hole the odds appeared heavily stacked in favour of us doing so despite rather than because of the gangly fellow.

And yet, fast forward fifteen minutes or so and the chap was galloping off to the touchline in celebration, face contorted and fist clenched. He may have cut a pretty calamitous figure for much of his Tottenham career, but loft the ball towards his upper regions and Llorente will tend to find a way to plant a header into the net.

The curiosity in amongst all of this is that the ten lilywhites around him, while presumably having met him at some point, nevertheless seem utterly oblivious to the fact that Lorente is not, never has been and never will be Harry Kane, and just continue to play as if he is. They ignore his limitations – namely his stunning lack of mobility – and indeed his strengths – all that aerial muck – and instead whizz around the pitch as normal, and tell him to keep up if he can. Which he can’t.

The net sum of all this is that for much of the binge we play almost as if a man short. When a cross finally was lobbed onto his head, the blighter scored. Makes one think a bit, what?

2. Poch’s Changes

Going back to the beginning, it was another one of those dirge-like first half knocks, which suggests that some of the wiring is not quite right at HQ. Bar young Sonny, whose effervescence from the off was rather eye-catching, there was a distinct lack of movement and general urgency in that first half.

Not for the first time in recent weeks, Our Glorious Leader therefore took a sip or two from the chalice of half-time tinkerings, and with Lucas Moura introduced, and Sissoko drawing the short straw of right wing-back, things pretty immediately assumed a much rosier hue.

In truth, Sissoko hardly looks at ease in any position on the pitch, so right wing-back was as reasonable a shout as any other, and the chap did all that was necessary, including delivering the perfectly serviceable cross that resulted in Llorente’s one-yard moment of horror.

Further credit to Poch for recognising that there was more to be gained from introducing a more bona fide crosser onto the right, and accordingly shoving Trippier into action; and even his gambit of Lamela-for-Vertonghen was surprisingly – and pleasingly – proactive, for a man who has spent several years carefully cultivating his image as one firmly welded to the laissez-faire principle of letting matters take their own course during play without dreaming of injecting any tactical interference.

The changes ultimately worked, but if one were to quibble – and let’s face it, the interweb exists for precious little other reason – one might politely opine that we would have been better off by beginning in such manner rather than falling behind and adjusting like the dickens.

3. Moura

For all the nuanced alterations, it was Moura’s introduction that really turned the thing on its head and blew all our skirts up.

Where Son had previously ploughed an effervescent but pretty lonely furrow, Moura’s direct running noticeably achieved the double-whammy of shoving fresh handfuls of problems at a Watford defence used to the markedly less mobile threat of Llorente, whilst simultaneously giving our lot a wealth of fresh options, either in the penalty area or attacking from rather deeper districts.

He might not have scored or directly created a goal, but there were certainly hints of the early-season Moura who merrily ran riot at Old Trafford, and with Messrs Kane and Alli still some distance away from being fully paid-up members of the parish, his was a welcome return.

4. Rose, The Useful Alternative Attacking Option

The ever-feisty Danny Rose also caught the eye, as he often does. In the second half in particular he seemed rather to enjoy the self-assigned task of trying to dribble past as many yellow shirts as he could spot, at one point beating a man and then re-tracing his steps purely for the purpose of finding the same man and beating him again.

All of which would have served little purpose, but he did at least have the courtesy to sail in a few crosses at the end of it all, or at least attempt to do so. More often than not they brought corners, but in the final throes it brought Llorente’s goal, and as such he did precisely that for which he was put on God’s green earth.

Aside from such direct involvement, it was also notable how often we resort to the diagonal switch of play, from the right or centre to the feet of Rose stationed wide left, when the well of creative ideas runs dry and all in lilywhite simply mooch around with gormless faces and shrugging shoulders. Where Walker-Peters is forced to cut back onto his right, and Davies’ attacking talents are somewhat limited, Rose time and again offers a viable alternative against the deep-lying defensive units.

5. Late Comebacks: Becoming A Habit, Would You Believe?

Mercifully our persistence paid off, and not for the first time. Time and again our heroes are finding ways to drag themselves back into games and produce late wins when the outlook has been decidedly gloomy but five or ten minutes earlier. It will not win us a trophy any time soon, nor can we be considered credible title challengers, but one does get the impression that another box is being ticked this season.

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

Chelsea 2-1 Spurs: Five Tottenham Observations

1. The First Half: As Rotten As I’ve Seen

The first half was just about as rotten as we’d all feared. We Spurs fans are rarely the most optimistic breed at the best of times, but with our three leading lights absent and Llorente as the nominated focal point, the mood pre-match was one of undiluted dread, a sentiment that proved entirely justified in an opening 45 that was dross of the highest order.

Most of that period was spent simply haring around in the slipstream of the Chelsea lot, barely laying a foot on the ball and generally giving the sense that an almighty thrashing was in the post and on its way.

Llorente seemed to pick up where he left off against Fulham, seemingly unable to find a team-mate if his life had depended on it, and he received precious little support from a midfield that seemed to view the ball with the gawking confusion of a group of wide-eyed innocents being introduced to it for the first time.

One rather felt for Eriksen, who stood head and shoulders above his teammates, but who all too often tiptoed his way around numerous snapping ankles only to look up and find that not a soul was in the vicinity to offer support. Or that Llorente was there, which essentially amounted to the same thing.

2. The All Action Second Half

The transformation amongst our mob in the second half was of the sort normally reserved for cartoon characters with little concern for realistic plot devices.

Our Glorious Leader, for so long a manager who seems to have treated a football match as a cinematic experience to be enjoyed passively and in a silent spirit of non-interference throughout, took it upon himself to switch to a back three, which gave Danny Rose in particular the licence to hare upfield with the sort of zeal that one would rather not argue with.

And aside from the tactical change, the whole bally gang of lilywhites took to the second half with a frenzied determination if not exactly to strategically out-manoeuvre Chelsea, chess-like and subtle, then at least with a frantic spirit of all-action-no-plot frenzy that seemed to rely upon living by the sword and dashed well dying by it too. It was marvellous fun, albeit pretty wearing stuff for the nerves.

3. Llorente’s Moment of Redemption. Good Egg.

The first half might have gone on for several days and we would not have got anywhere near scoring; but within five minutes of the second half we had done the business, and I think only those of the most heartless dispositions could have failed to feel some pleasure for Senor Llorente.

I’m quite happy to admit that I was amongst the most vocal in chiding the wretched chap at the weekend for his buffoonery, so his perseverance last night was worthy of some grudging admiration; but his headed goal merits a far more sincere slap on the back and splash of the good stuff.

A combination of brute force and bravery, when it would have been easy for him to sulk and mope and just give up on the whole dashed thing, it was impressive stuff (even if the hope it thereby provided did ultimately make the eventual defeat all the more galling).

4. Gazzaniga Passing

Although there was a deflection en route that perhaps messed with his mechanics, I was not exactly bowled over by Gazzaniga’s attempt to repel Kante’s goal; but the chap’s distribution is fast becoming one of the more impressive sights to behold.

We’ve seen it from him a few times now, this inclination to volley the ball from his hands deep into the heart of a panicky opposition defence, and Gazzaniga was at it again last night, niftily straddling that line between a hopeful, moronic punt and a devilishly identified and executed ping of a wonder-pass.

The pass that set Eriksen free on the right very nearly created The Best Goal Ever – Llorente, in one of life’s more unsurprising developments, failing to make a clean connection with Eriksen’s cross.

Then Gazzaniga set Moura free on the inside left, and the ensuing volley was only a few inches away from being another goal the aesthetics of which would have flown through the roof.

Lloris presumably retains the edge for his instinctive shot-stopping, but Gazzaniga’s passing is one heck of a string to his bow. I look forward to his next foray in the FA Cup on Sunday.

5. Injuries

Ultimately it was not to be, and we might as well have exited the competition at the first hurdle (although I think the win at the Emirates did a world of good, so silver linings and all that muck).

The sight of Davies limping off after half an hour actually caused me not a jot of upset – as, it might surprise my public to know, I’ve never been the most ardent supporter of the young bean – but the principle of another day bringing about another injury is about as much as any sane chappie can bear.

The lunacy of the summer transfer policy is not just an elephant in the room, it’s an entire herd of the things. Almost every one of our players who went to the World Cup has since picked up some form of injury, and we have barely had a week free of a midweek fixture.

The official party line of not buying players who cannot improve upon the current starting eleven is being exposed as utter tosh with each passing day, for we simply need additional players just to take to the pitch. If no better players can be bought, buy players of equal quality and field them instead, rather than fielding the same honest souls every game until they literally break.

Alas, there seems little likelihood of any of this changing, and frankly we seem more likely to sell than to buy this month. It’s a dreary append to an oddly glorious failure.

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

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