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Tottenham Hotspur – latest news, opinion, reports, previews, transfers, gossip, rants… from one bewildered fan
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Man City 2-2 Spurs: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. Excellent Result, Pretty Middling Performance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. KWP Survives

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

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

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

3. Playing Out From The Back

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. Winks

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

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

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

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

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

5. Eriksen Anonymous

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Spurs Sign Young Full-Backs – But Will We Ever See Them?

So, our first signings of the summer are announced – and rather curiously they are more full-backs. The trendily-named Kyle Naughton and Kyle Walker – 20 and 19 respectively – may sound like characters from Starship Troopers, but they are now lilywhites, plucked from Sheff Utd for anywhere between 5 and 10 mil, depending on which website you trust.In theory it’s rather a charming idea – buying up the cream of young English talent, and watching with paternal pride as they break into our first team and blossom into seasoned internationals. It’s vastly preferable to the dastardly Wenger’s any-nationality-but-English policy, or Man City’s excitement-sapping approach of buying up every striker available. I’m also rather illogically chuffed that we snatched Naughton and Walker right from the paws of Everton – suckers.

In practice however, this makes little sense. We collect full-backs like train-spotters collect – well, whatever it is train-spotters collect. Anoraks or something. Corluka, Hutton, Assou-Ekotto, Bale, Chimbonda – anyone I’ve forgotten? O’ Hara could probably do a job at left-back. Gilberto might still be at the club. With the best will in the world, I really cannot see Naughton and Walker leap-frogging all this lot to get anywhere near the first team in the next couple of years.

Actually, the Walker business might work, as he is being loaned straight back whence he came, to Sheff Utd. Smart move. He’ll get regular first-team action, in a team with which he is already au fait, and hopefully he will progress accordingly. If he does so, we can merrily pluck him back.

Naughton however, has effectively put his career on hold for a couple of years. He may have made the PFA Championship Team of the Year, but his career is almost certainly about to regress. ‘Arry has not shown any inclination to blood our youngsters, other than when he was trying to write off our Uefa Cup campaign last season. Cast your minds back to the end of last season, and a mystifying aspect of his tenure was his absolute refusal to make substitutions. Even when we were imploding towards a 5-2 defeat at Man Utd, despite having internationals on the bench, he would not make a change until the game was up in the final 5 minutes or so.

’Arry won’t introduce our kids as subs, and he most certainly won’t throw them into the starting line-up. He has shown little willingness to gamble on the likes of Taarabt and Giovanni, and I would be mightily surprised if Rose, Obika or Bostock were given decent runs in the team at any point this season. The likes of Hudd, Lennon, Carrick and even Jenas are examples of how young talent can break into the first team – if given an extended run. However, there is little to suggest that this will happen under Redknapp, particularly in Naughton’s position as full-back.

I’m not exactly renowned for the accuracy of my prognostications, but I’m willing to stick my neck on the line and predict that for Naughton’s Tottenham career we need look no further than Chris Gunter. To be honest I give Gunter credit for escaping before the staleness got to him and withered him away. After 18 months and 16 appearances he has seen enough and taken off, leaving us none the wiser as to whether he would have made the grade at Spurs. It pains me to write these words, as I still recall the quite stupendous start to his Spurs career, but I see Bale similarly either being pushed or jumping from the good ship Tottenham, due to lack of opportunity.

I very much hope to be proved wrong in time. I would like to see what this Naughton chap can do for us. More broadly, I would love to see us become a club that develops young talent. And I reiterate – in theory, the signing of these promising youngsters, and the willingness to spend big money on English talent, is a cracking idea. The nagging suspicion remains, however, that in practice we are not the sort of club (and ‘Arry not the sort of manager) to blood these kids, and that neither they as players nor we as a club will benefit. Which rather begs the question – why has Redknapp signed Naughton and Walker?

 

Barca – Man Utd Champions League Final Preview: All Action, Please

Ah The Champions League. That inescapable anthem. The meaningless group games. The same teams each year – some of whom actually are indeed national champions. And money, everywhere. Advertising money. TV money. Salaries. Transfer fees.The All-Action Way

With this thick layer of cynicism building up around the Champions League I find it genuinely refreshing to look forward to tonight’s game. Two teams who generally play the right way. The all-action way, full of movement, interchanging and technique that has grown men drooling.

It’s all action for sure, but, at least in Man Utd’s case, there is a darned good idea of plot too, in the form of Rio and the Serbian psycho, protected by the beaverish midfield three. The excellent Radio 5 Live preview last night made an interesting point, namely that in the absence of their suspended, ridiculously over-attacking full-backs – Abidal and Alves – Barca will be forced to field a couple of understudies at right and left-back, and therefore might be more cautious, and consequently a darned sight tighter at the back than they usually are. Interesting point.

Other sub-plots of note: Van der Saar has gone all Obi Wan Kenobi – an old man, whose powers are waning. His flaps and fumbles are increasing in frequency. I’m not convinced that Giggs is an adequate understudy to Fletcher in the role of midfield hustler-and-harrier. Barca’s insistence on passing to death outside the area rather than have a pop from distance (an affliction which curiously hampered Spurs in the spring months) has generally proved detrimental to their cause against English opposition. Pretty to watch though.

Early Goal, Please

Naturally, there is the worry that after all the anticipation, this game degenerates into a dour, disappointing affair. However, an early goal ought to do the trick, and really open up the game. Although last year’s final was watched through an increasingly hazy cloud of alcohol, I do recall it being a generally entertaining affair – thanks, in no small part, to the early-ish opening goal. A pleasant contrast to the FA Cup Final between the same two teams the previous year.

Rooting For Man Utd. Sort Of.

I won’t particularly mind who wins, as it doesn’t concern Spurs, but I suppose I’ll be edging towards Man Utd. As with many of the greatest arguments of mankind, my reasons are threefold:

1) The patriot in me always likes to see English teams win European trophies. (Unless it’s l’Arse. Or Chelski).

2) Rooney. The man’s a genius, and I’d love to see him boss the game of games.

3) Generally a fan of the Man Utd style of play. Liquid football. In last year’s Champs League Final they produced one of my favourite pieces of football ever – Rooney picked up the ball at right-back (!), motored forward 40 yards, then pinged a diagonal cross-field peach of a ball to Ronaldo, who pulled it back for Tevez (I think) to diving head, saved by Cech, before Carrick blasted the rebound goalwards, where it was headed clear by a defender. Or something like that (alcoholic haze, remember). Absolutely awesome football. I just stood there ogling, as if it were a svelte brunette tying knots in a cherry stalk with her tongue.

Then in the semi vs l’Arse there was something similarly mesmeric in Ronaldo’s second goal – the backheel, Park’s burst, Rooney’s perfect pass, and Ronaldo again, sixty yards from his starting-point, finishing it.

More of the same tonight please.

Man Utd 2-1 Spurs: Insufficient Contribution From The Hudd

Well first of all, an apology to ‘Arry Redknapp – I could barely disguise my displeasure yesterday at the twitchy one’s purported plan to field his weakest possible XI, instead of his full-strength team, in an effort to ensure defeat vs Man Utd and reduce fixture congestion as we battle relegation. However, it seems the cheeky scamp was playing us (meaning me) for fools all along. Play his weakest possible team? He had no such plan lined up at all. Oh how he must have chortled when he submitted his team sheet at Old Trafford, replete with Pav, Modric and Corluka, and not a Ricky Rocha in sight. How Alex Ferguson must have quaked in his boots when the cunning plan was unveiled. While Defoe was benched and Woodgate completely absent, the team was nevertheless fairly strong, at least if measured by salaries.Alas, it didn’t work. While an improvement upon the Burnley mess, we never really looked like winning and Man Utd were not required to hit top gear. There were some encouraging signs – the continued decent form of Dawson, the continued positive attitude Bentley, a better showing from young Alnwick – but there was also a pretty obvious difference in class, neatly epitomised by the build-up and finish to Berbatov’s goal. We struggled to put them under sustained pressure, and created few decent chances.

Thanks to the wondrous efficiency of the London Underground – comparable to Darren Bent in terms of value for money – I managed to miss the first ten minutes of the game. I therefore missed the goal (insert another Darren Bent gag here) – and also, it appears, the only worthwhile contribution of the last two games from the Hudd. Despite being given the platform of a 4-5-1 formation he created little over the 80 minutes I saw. I do doff my cap in his general direction in recognition of the sweet little pass for Pav’s goal, but he really ought to have been looking to pull the strings throughout. Instead, Man Utd won the midfield battle, while Hudd’s distribution was at best average, and his work-rate pretty woeful.

I may do him a disservice, in that he’s not a natural workhouse of an athlete, and therefore even if he is sincerely attempting to harry opponents and win tackles, the effect on the pitch is of a fat man lumbeing from point A to point B as if treading through quicksand. While nippy opponents scurry hither and thither, Hudd puffs and pants after them, apologetically sticking out a leg in the general direction of play, well after ball and opponent have passed him by. Given his limitations in winning the ball, much depends upon what he does with it – but when his passing radar is a little awry he’s more of a hindrance than a help.

The Hudd emerged in the team as the heir apparent to Michael Carrick, a player who was also a relatively weak tackler for a deep-lying midfielder, but who made up for it with his quite exquisite passing ability, not to mention the capacity to dip his shoulder and turn away from trouble, irrespective of how many opponents were crowding him out (a talent these days exhibited by Modric). Hudd’s passing can occasionally be of a similar, jaw-droppingly good level as Carrick’s was – but there’s the rub: it’s occasional. And typically, such occasions will see us already in cruise control in a game, and playing at the Lane. Cruise control hasn’t really been in operation this season, and the need for bite in midfield has been painfully obvious.

Still in his early 20s there is time for Hudd to develop his game, but how many more chances do we give him to prove he can boss a game from central midfield? Opponents of lesser ability but greater energy will continue to get the better of him, as Burnley did last week, and this might not be a risk we can afford to take given our current plight. It’s a tricky one, as his passing has at times had us drooling, and is very much in the stylish Tottenham mould. Rumour has it that Martin Jol (blessed be his name) is considering a bid to take him to Hamburg, and it’s certainly conceivable that he would thrive in a European league. However, too many more anonymous games and ‘Arry’s patience will snap, if it hasn’t already done so.

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