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Spurs match reports

Spurs 1-2 Wolves: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Emerson

One did not have to be one of those medieval soothsayer types, who apparently were pretty sharp in matters of spotting what was about to happen, to feel a bit of the old dread creeping up when Big Ange gruffled the news that both of Messrs Porro and Udogie would spend their Saturday afternoon being patched up in some infirmary tent rather than fighting the good fight on-pitch.

No huge surprises in the identity of their replacements, Emerson on one side and Ben Davies t’other, and while their earnestness was never going to be in doubt, that wasn’t really ever going to be the point, what?

There was a general lack of the sharpened tooth about our play from starter’s gun to finish line yesterday, incidences of rapier-like passing that cut to ribbons the opposition being so few that one could count them on the fingers of one hand. Now of course it would be a bit much to lay all the blame for this at the doors of Emerson and Davies, and our endeavours might well have been similarly fruitless with Porro and Udogie at the roaming-full-back wheel, not least because the second half was pretty much a non-stop session of trying to pick a way through a back-ten in and around their own area.

But nevertheless. Particularly in the first half, when the game was a tad more open but our passing from deep-to-advanced was pretty uninspired, I did stare off into the distance and do a spot of yearning.

Emerson, being the sort of egg so curious that he merits his own unique category of one, could conceivably have offered a bit of attacking spark, if all his lights were on. While he is probably not one for a 40-yard Porro-esque pass onto a sixpence, I had hoped we might see him carry the ball forward and infield, and give the Wolves lot something about which to confer.

Unfortunately, with Emerson one has to take the bonkers with the smooth, and he gave a few early indications that this was to be one of his more exasperating innings. For a start there were a few horribly misplace passes, which I suppose can happen to anyone, but when emanating from the size nines of Emerson do tend to suggest that he is off on another planet. Confidence – or rather lack thereof – never having been an issue with this mad young bean, rather than rein it in a bit he simply carried on trying no-look passes and whatnot.

However, the moment that really made me tut and stew was when, having been lazily caught in possession and deposited upon his derriere, rather than bounce straight back up, hellbent on correcting his error, he remained in his seat and took to waving his arms for an imaginary foul. Wolves, meanwhile, simply got on with it, shoved their way into our area and almost scored, dash it.

Obviously I use the pen-wielder’s licence to colour the lad’s entire performance as unequivocally disastrous, when the truth is probably that he made plenty of quiet, positive contributions, but in the first half in particular too many of his inputs led to a skyward fling of the AANP hands, and a muttered imprecation as its soundtrack. In a first half badly lacking cohesion and threat, Emerson made a handy poster-boy for our troubles.

2. Ben Davies

Ben Davies, to give credit where due, was actually pretty solid defensively and expansive offensively. If there is a criticism of him – apart from the wild misdirection of that late header, which ought to have CPR-d the result – it is that he is not Destiny Udogie, which seems a rather cruel sort of mud to sling at a fellow. I mean, not much that one can do about being born as one person and not as another, what?

As mentioned, he did things well enough. The sort of willing chappie destined always to be in the ‘Supporting Cast’ category, he won a few early defensive arguments against his opposing winger, and also made regular visits to the Wolves final third. Truth be told, he was as effective an attacking spoke as anyone else, and if I could have toddled around the changing-room post-match and canvassed a few opinions, I suspect that Sonny, Maddison and Richarlison would have spoken kindly enough of his contributions.

But in a game in which we sorely lacked a bit of the old thrust, I did note that the most incisive first half passes into the final third came from Messrs VDV on the left and Romero on the right. A spot of Udogie from deep would have gone down well.

3. Kulusevski

The half-time mood was pretty dark at AANP Towers. There was no shortage of subjects of ire, and not really enough time to have the deep and meaningful rant that each of them deserved, but one point on which I (and a chum or two) were pretty clear was that the current iteration of Kulusevski was pretty seriously undercooked.

Naturally he then took 46 seconds to ram my words down my throat with a bit of meaning, dancing around defenders in that curious way of his that seems to defy physics (my eyes probably deceived, but I’m pretty convinced that at one point he ran literally through a Wolves defender – which I accept contradicts much of what we know of modern science, but there we go).

So bucketfuls of credit where due, it was a fabulously executed goal. However, I maintain that it was also quite the anomaly. Kulusevski’s outputs in general this season seem to have been pretty muted. Of the unstoppable buccaneer of Spring 2022 there is little sign these days. In his defence, none of the fifteen outfield players used yesterday had much attacking success, so I’m happy to slather some context about the place, but with Kulusevski these diminished returns have been evident for some time.

This business of constantly cutting back onto his left foot strikes me as constituting a hefty chunk of the problem. Funnily enough it does still catch the occasional opponent by surprise, but this isn’t much good given that it also tends to suck a decent gulp of momentum from the attacking move. Defenders who might a smidgeon earlier have been out of position and rushing back to their posts, with sirens for both panic and confusion sounding in their ears, are granted time to pack out the place and steady their feet. The diem passes frustratingly un-carpe’d.

Moreover, having completed the whole business of cutting back onto his left, Kulusevski very rarely then makes good on his pledge and does anything meaningful with the ball thereafter. When he first joined, a couple of years back, one lost count of the number of times he cut back and curled the ball either into the far corner or into the path of an onrushing forward sort. Whereas these days he just bunts the thing into the first opposing body and it bounces away, or else loops a shot high and wide.

Much of Kulusevski’s value has traditionally derived from his deceptive burst of pace carrying the ball from halfway onwards, which is fair enough, and a trait still occasionally in evidence against more adventurous teams playing higher up the pitch; but on the whole, and certainly on occasions like yesterday, when up against a deep-lying defence, there’s not much scope for such frivolity.

Towards the end of yesterday’s proceedings, when Our Glorious Leader adopted the Football Manager approach of shoving as many attackers onto the pitch as the rules allowed, we were treated to a brief glimpse of Kulusevski in a more central role, which, from my armchair, seems to suit him a little better. Again, however, there protrudes a spanner in the works, as with Maddison back one would not expect to see too much of Kulusevski at number 10.

As with Emerson, one could hardly lump all our woes into one neat pile at the door of Kulusevski and wait for him to solve everything, but it’s another of those charming little knots that Postcoglou et al will need to unravel.

4. Van de Ven and Vicario

On a positive note, both Van de Ven and Vicario were in pretty spiffing form yesterday, so that was a little treat for the gathered masses.

Rather a shame that it was all to no avail, but VDV’s recovery pace continues to make the eyes pop from the head, and will presumably receive greater acclaim on future dates, when deployed in a winning cause. It was not so evident in the second half, when the pattern of things shifted considerably, but in the first half every time Wolves got behind our high-line – the difficulty of which was right up there alongside taking sweets from babies – one could breathe easily in the knowledge that a locomotive in human form would pretty swiftly be arriving from across the pitch to hoover up the mess.

Vicario, similarly, took the opportunity to showcase his most eye-catching stuff. Point-blank save in each half were worth goals, and I have a feeling he had another chalked off by an offside flag, but it was enough to communicate the gist: here was a man in rare old form.

Moreover, given that so much hot air is now expelled on the topic of what goalkeepers do with their feet, there was a charmingly old-fashioned thrill in seeing our man stick out a reflexive paw a couple of time to execute some point-blank saves.

That said, both goals conceded were pretty maddening. The first in particular prompted a rather weary groan, an unmarked header from a corner of all things being the sort of offence that ought to have the lot of them docked a month’s wages and locked in dank cells. As for the second, it was pretty clearly scripted stuff by our opponents, which in turn reflects poorly on our Brains Trust. Much to ponder in the next couple of weeks.

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Spurs match reports

Spurs 2-1 Brighton: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Maddison as Vicario’s Bodyguard

Easy to forget amidst all the joyous bedlam of full-time, but one of the burning questions going into this one was around the thorny issue of Vicario receiving more of the rough stuff at corners, and the ploy devised by Our Glorious Leader to negate such dastardly acts.

We didn’t have to wait too long to see the fruits of such planning, with Vicario being assigned his own personal bodyguard at corners, evidently tasked with inserting self in between goalkeeper and opposing, interfering forward. In a world in which meaty specimens such as Romero and Udogie and Richarlison lurk about the premises, I have to confess to raising a slightly alarmed eyebrow upon discovering that the identity of Vicario’s saviour was to be one J. Maddison Esq.

Now in a sense this added up. Heavyweights such as the aforementioned presumably already had their own important duties to carry out at corners; while Maddison comes across as the willing sort, always happy to take on an additional task that will help the collective, and even more so if it’s a high-profile little number.

On the other hand, however, there’s the delicate issue of what one might politely term ‘Suitability for the Role’. Putting it delicately, Maddison’s is not a physique of pure, unadulterated brawn and sinew. If I were to request, from an agency that handled such things, the services of a bit of muscle to protect me from harm of an evening, I’d be pretty cheesed off if they sent James Maddison my way, and would probably send him straight back and demand a refund. Of the entire squad, I imagine that only the wisp-like Bryan Gil would have any difficulty in shoving aside Maddison in any form of physical combat.

Nevertheless, it was better than the alternative, of simply allowing whichever forward (Welbeck yesterday, I think) an unhindered run at Vicario to flap in his face and barge him around as he pleased. And one might reasonably argue that the proof of the pudding was in the fact that Vicario being forced into errors at corners simply was not an issue yesterday, as it had been in previous games. (Although the caveat here is that Brighton’s delivery from corners was not so accurate as to put him under proper scrutiny.) Certainly, Maddison got into the spirit of the thing, all bravado and tugging and pulling each time the principals set themselves for a corner.

So a solution of sorts, but I do consider that a more rigorous test of this scheme, and Maddison’s abilities in the area of personal security, could be yet to come.

2. Not Quite At The Races

Is it just me or does every outing of the Good Ship Hotspur end in some dramatic stoppage-time goal, one way or the other? It certainly feels that way, to the extent that if one of our games finished 5-3 but with all scoring wrapped up by the 80th minute, I’d probably slope away in a bit of a mood, grumbling about not having received my money’s worth.

Anyway, whichever soul launched the gag about all being well that ends well certainly hit the bullseye yesterday, and I blush to admit that I rather lost my sense of propriety when Johnson popped up at the end, bounding about the place like one possessed, truth be told. All of which was well and good, and pretty much captures why we make the weekly pilgrimage in the first place; but it did also paper over the fact that this was a slightly squiffy sort of showing from our heroes.

The dubious tone was set within the first 30 second when young VDV, normally the sort of egg upon whom you’d bet your mortgage as well as the life of your least-favoured child, oddly floundered, losing his bearings, his sight of the ball and his understanding of gravity. Under minimal pressure he tripped over himself and into a little heap, allowing Welbeck to race off and send an early greeting Vicario’s way.

VDV was at it again for the penalty, dipping a foot into a spot he ought to have avoided; an episode that had its genesis in Bentancur miscalculating pretty significantly and being hustled off the ball on the edge of his own area. Bentancur was perhaps the poster-boy for the day’s travails, occasionally delivering his trademark wriggle from trouble, but too often caught dwelling in possession and failing to provide the steady hand to which we’ve become accustomed.

To be clear, however, this was not a case of VDV and Bentancur alone being at the heart of our troubles. Most in lilywhite seemed a little undercooked. Take Udogie, for example. Strangely muted, no? Vicario at one point ill-advisedly underarmed the ball to Bentancur in a most precarious spot; and so on.

Being a gracious sort, I can grudgingly admit that a lot of our under-performing was down to Brighton, whose high-press was pretty snappy, and whose short passing was at times terrific. In fact, the whole thing struck me as what would happen if our heroes played against themselves in one of those shiny computer games with fancy graphics.

Whatever the reason, for the first twenty or so, our lot were comfortably second best; and while we got back on top in the latter part of the first half, this owed as much to pressing high and turning over possession as to any particular guile in our build-up play. Following ingestion of the half-time victuals, our lot hit first gear for a good 25 minutes or so, which looked like it would bring a lot more that just the equaliser, and I confess that at that point I settled back into my seat with a rather smug sense of anticipation; only for our lot to lose their way again, and end up rather clinging on as the clock struck 90. A strange old knocking from our heroes, then.

3. Richarlison

Richarlison was another who didn’t quite hit the right notes, until he eventually did circa minute 96.

His first half miss when clean through (doff of the cap to Maddison for the pass, by the by) was pretty unforgiveable. One can bleat away all day about the goalkeeper spreading himself and whatever else, but that was about as straightforward as chances come, and a chap in his current form ought to have crossed t’s and dotted i’s with minimal fuss.

He delivered similar rot when given the opportunity to tee up Maddison for a straightforward finish, again before half-time. Admittedly that was a pass that required a tad more timing and weighting, but nevertheless it ought not to have been beyond a fellow  whose juices have been flowing like his in the last six weeks or so.

It was a curious performance from Richarlison, because it was not one of those in which he skulked about the place like a moody teen, or wobbled unconvincingly, beset by a critical absence of confidence. He seemed right as rain in matters of the head, full of confidence and positivity. He just failed to deliver at the critical moments – until the finale.

At that point, he did a cracking job, delivering his lines to perfection. His pass for Son looked simple enough, but had he played it with any greater or lesser force Sonny would probably have had to break his stride – or strayed offside – and we’d all be grumbling about another drawn game we should have won. Instead, Richarlison (having been involved in the earlier build-up too), picked his moment and weighted his pass, and AANP duly forgave his earlier transgressions.

4. The Winning Goal

While Richarlison’s minor but critical role receives a light ovation from these parts, I’m inclined to shove the Best Supporting Actor trophy towards Sonny. One can take it for granted, but there aren’t too many nibs around who can go flying off at that sort of pace. His timing had to be on the money too, to stay onside, but mercifully the chap was fully alert to the situation, and crammed the best of all worlds into one single package – staying onside whilst building up a sufficient head of steam to outpace his opposing defender pretty comfortably.

There then followed the most critical part of the operation, viz. delivery of the pass. We could all see it, of course – and being the helpful sort, AANP took the opportunity to scream at the blighter a pithy but accurate instruction as to what was needed at this juncture – but it’s one thing seeing, and a different kettle of fish actually doing.

Mercifully, Son delivered to the millimetre. There was no messing around with additional touches, or considerations of taking it on himself, or any such nonsense. Son pinged the pass first-time, with a spot of curl to evade the stretching Estupinan, leaving Johnson with a pretty straightforward mission from 5 yards.

Johnson, as is well known, has attracted a decent amount of opprobrium over the months, principally for his delivery of a final ball, but if he excels in one area it is in understanding the value of arriving at the back post when potential is bubbling away on the opposite flank. He does it better than most of the others in our ranks, and there is something particularly pleasing about seeing a goal created by one wide attacker to be executed the other. If Son deserves credit for his burst of pace on the left, Johnson ought also to be lauded for acting similarly on the right – for all his attributes I’m not sure Kulusevski would have eaten up those yards.

For one horrific moment I did actually think that Johnson had managed to blast the ball over the bar, but the lad had the good sense not to lash at the thing, and the happy ending was safely tucked away.

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Spurs match reports

Everton 2-2 Spurs: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. That Late Equaliser

Nothing quite wrenches the gut like conceding an added-time equaliser, what? If you don’t mind a remarkably early tangent, one of the oddities of such things is the change in narrative it brings about, with the great and good effortlessly swivelling from a narrative of Spurs showing spirit to grind out a win to, one set-piece later, Spurs’ lack of game management in one of their worst showings of the season.

Back to the wrenched gut, and when all concerned adopted their positions for that final free-kick, AANP would gladly have directed all three wishes from the nearest genie towards a Tottenham head getting to the ball first. Picture my delight then, when, upon delivery of the f.k., the head that rose to prominence belonged to one of our own, Cristian Romero taking a spot of initiative. It was high-fives all round at AANP Towers, Everton having seemingly been denied and the danger averted.

Alas, to my considerable consternation it quickly became evident that this was but the first element in a quite horrific two-parter. Romero’s part having been played well enough, the immediate sequel somehow saw the Everton laddie Branthwaite and poor old Vicario drawn together in close-quarter combat, with nary another soul in sight.

The mood at AANP Towers swiftly darkened. Vicario is a man of many goalkeeping (and, indeed, outfield) talents, the strings to his bow being rich and plentiful; but standing up to some brutish lump in a duel to the death is not amongst them. Vicario, already back-pedalling was duly flattened, as that Branthwaite creature skirted over the finer points and simply bundled into the net the ball, goalkeeper, self and anything else that happened to catch his eye. In neatly appropriate fashion, Vicario sustained a blow to the gut in the process.

So no blame attached to Romero; and while Vicario might have offered a bit more resistance (as shall be explored below) the damage by that point seemed already done. As such, the initial reaction was simply to bemoan the rotten luck of the ball looping so invitingly to an Everton head.

But a little further investigation revealed that in fact there were culprits galore dotted about the place.

The dashed free-kick in the first place. Review the footage and one notes Richarlison losing possession in his own half in the first place, which was unimpressive but I suppose not, at that stage terminal. Next, and after a spot of this and that amongst the principals, the responsibility for matters fell upon Kulusevski.

Having lost a 50-50, which was excusable enough, rather than try something constructive to redeem the situation, or indeed simply put his head down and chase back, Kulusevski took an unsubtle swipe at the legs of the Everton man from behind. It was comfortably the most knuckle-headed option on offer, being both utterly unnecessary whilst also presenting a free-kick in prime position to a side whose only threat had been from set-pieces.

Nor did the ignominy end there. The headlines of that second goal may by now be familiar to all – Romero, Branthwaite, et cetera – but there comes a time in a man’s life when he must pause and ask himself precisely why it was that Branthwaite was left unchallenged in the six-yard box at the depth.

The guilty party, rather regrettably, given his contributions in other areas, was Richarlison. Attached to Branthwaite at the moment of delivery, he retained an observer’s interest in events as they unfolded, his beady eye remaining on the ball throughout. The crux of the thing, however, was that Richarlison’s presence ought to have been in the capacity of a participant rather than an observer, and in this respect he erred pretty sensationally. Once the ball was airborne, the chap simply stopped moving. Branthwaite jostled his way into prime position, whether in hope, expectation or whatever else; but behind him, Richarlison was making it pretty clear that his race was won. ‘If anyone is going to stop that chap’, he seemed to intimate, ‘it dashed well won’t be me.’

2. Richarlison’s Happier Moments (Or What Ought To Have Been Happier Moments) – Part One

As mentioned, a shame that the trail of evidence can be traced back to Richarlison for that one, because in other respects he looked a man in the form of his life.

Now a cynic might suggest that his first goal didn’t amount to much, perhaps pointing out that he simply stood in one spot and had the ball fed to him on a plate, leaving him with a To-Do list that contained little more than to stand on one leg and swing with the other. Not necessarily untruths I suppose, but this in itself seemed to illustrate the fellow’s brimming confidence. The nous to stand in one spot, for a start, was indicative of a striker who knows he is on a bit of a roll, rather than trying too hard to be in all places at once.

And even the finish, whilst low on technical requirements such as first touch, the side-stepping of defenders or the deceiving of the goalkeeper, was nevertheless a bit of a triumph of slick technique. After all, who amongst us hasn’t witnessed this very same man at the vital moment tripping over real or imaginary obstacles, or thumping the ball everywhere except within the frame of the goal? To see him simply slap the ball first-time into the net, without pausing to dwell on any of the ways in which the operation might go wrong, was mightily pleasing.

An honorary mention to those involved in the build-up to that first goal, the neat, quick passing of that move summing up our approach in those glorious first ten minutes or so, before we spent the remainder of the half struggling to control proceedings. Hojbjerg (whose contributions typically swung wildly between Decent and Rotten), Udogie and Werner all made smart choices in possession out on the left before Richarlison applied the coup de grâce, and at that stage I must confess that I topped up the lunchtime bourbon in rather self-satisfied fashion. The early signs were pretty promising.

3. Richarlison’s Happier Moments (Or What Ought To Have Been Happier Moments) – Part Two

By the time Richarlison’s second goal rolled around, the atmosphere had shifted somewhat, from heady optimism to something considerable sterner, our heroes struggling to demonstrate any semblance of control when in possession in our own half. But out of the blue they chiselled another delightful goal, and while Richarlison again made a point of showing the world that he was a changed man in front of goal, the build-up once more merited acclaim.

Maddison in particular emerged with credit from that second goal. In truth, it was a bit tricky to follow in its entirety quite what sorcery he produced, the naked eye being rather unfairly limited to seeing these things in real-time, but the headlines seemed to be that having received the ball in a bit of a pickle, circumstances not really being at their optimum – ball stuck under his feet, defenders poking their noses into his business – by the time he had finished conducting his affairs the ball was neatly rolling into the path of Richarlison to spit on his hands and get down to business.

Not that the end result was a tap-in for R9. The pouty Brazilian still had a fair amount of legwork to get through before he could go reaping the harvest, but again it was indicative of the mood of the young fish that he didn’t pause to fret and over-think, nor rush into his shot and hit any one of the various blue-shirted bounders scattered between him and the goal.

To his credit, Richarlison had the presence of mind to open up his body a tad, in the split-second or so in which the opportunity presented itself, this allowing a route to the top corner to present itself where previously there had been only Everton limbs. Moreover, the chap then nailed the pretty testing combination of placement and power, managing to sidefoot his shoot such that it dripped with accuracy, whilst also shoving enough heft behind it that it flew in at a decent rate of knots.

It’s taken some time, but the young nib is now marauding about the place like a bona fide finisher, which, for all his earnest endeavour and essential contributions in other areas (holding up the ball, effecting the high press etc) is really the meat and drink of the role.

All that said, it did rather irritate to see him making such a song and dance of not making a song and dance about scoring. This trend for refusing to celebrate goals against one’s former employer is one of those maddening modern fads that AANP would punish with a good thrashing if I ever came to power, but I suppose we’re stuck with it for now, so I can do little more than point out that in trying so hard not to upset his former fan-base, he’s rather irked at least one member of his current fan-base. I trust he will toss and turn and lose a goodish amount of sleep puzzling over that one in the coming nights.

4. Van de Ven

The other notable contributor de jour was young Micky Van de Ven, whose importance to the setup seems to grow with each passing game.

AANP’s latest whizz for whiling away the idle hour is to try to decide who amongst our number is the most important cog in the machine. And while Maddison, Son, Sarr and Vicario all have their merits, and in more left-field moments one might propose Udogie or even, when in his pomp, Bissouma, yesterday was the sort of afternoon on which the merits of Van de Ven seemed almost irresistible.

That turn of pace is really quite astonishing. The memory of his hamstring snap a few months ago against Chelsea does linger uncomfortably in the memory, so every time I witness him rev up and move through the gears I do hold the breath and murmur a silent prayer or two, but to witness him in action is quite something.

I have heard it pointed out that not only does he eat up the ground like some prize racehorse, but he is also blessed with the good sense to know when to dive in and when to stay on his feet – which may sound straightforward enough, but in a world of Romeros and Bissoumas and so on, is probably something to be appreciated.

Having a chap of his ilk manning the rear provides an attacking thrust as well as the defensive security, allowing the entire mob to play high up the pitch, safe in the knowledge that VDV’s pace provides something of a safety net, and while the other personnel did not really fulfil their side of the bargain yesterday, Van de Ven did not miss a trick.

5. Vicario

One could probably make a decent case for the notion that Everton’s aggression caused us problems all over the pitch, but it was at corners and against Vicario that the issue really came to a head.

Various of those in lilywhite have invested a decent amount of energy and outrage in complaining that the general buffeting of Vicario at corners is just not cricket, and that such behaviour ought not to be allowed. Personally I’m inclined to give the shoulders a shrug at that one. If the officials allow it – and the evidence of recent weeks indicates that they have done and will continue to do so for the foreseeable – then complaints ought to be silenced and energies devoted to fixing the issue.

Assigning Vicario some sort of burly minder might be an agreeable first step. One appreciates that all involved at corners have their dedicated roles and responsibilities (not that these necessarily carry too much weight in practice, if Richarlison’s marking of Branthwaite is anything to go by), but I would suggest that some physical protection for Vicario is now a priority.

And we’re not short of suitable candidates either. Even allowing for two or three man-markers, there are plenty amongst our number who are constructed from layer upon layer of thick muscle and ligament, so finding a volunteer to park himself next to our goalkeeper and prevent opponents from interfering in his business ought to be achievable.

The other option, of course, would be to train Vicario himself in a spot of self-defence, and perhaps investigate ways in which a bit of bulk could be added to his frame while at it. Vicario’s first reserve, Fraser Forster, I imagine, by virtue of being built like a sizeable oak, is not the sort of fellow who is too often barged off balance as he goes about his business, so he may have a tip or two to impart on these fronts.

Whatever the route they go down, something will have to be done. Clearly it is not sufficient for Vicario to be shoved to one side and bleat away at the ref after the ball is prodded in. Everton did not create too many chances from open play, but the mood amongst my little squadron of onlookers was one of ever-increasing panic each time they were awarded a corner, so it is conceivable that a certain anxiety may enter the minds of those on the pitch. Having achieved so much in open play, it would be vexing in the extreme to concede repeatedly from corners because of one single issue. Time for The Brains Trust to earn their keep.

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Spurs match reports

Spurs 3-2 Brentford: Three Tottenham Talking Points

1. Udogie

Not unusually for our lot this was a performance high on action and low on plot, the chaotic whole perhaps best represented by the various triumphs and misadventures of Destiny Udogie.

Taking things on a scale of Ripping to Ghastly, Udogie’s attacking inputs were productive and bountiful. There was more to it than just his goals: in the opening fifteen minutes or so, when we looked a good bet for the usual early salvo, Udogie was one of those at the forefront of the intricate pass-and-move stuff being furiously marketed.

Naturally, however, his role in our goals attracts the eye, and for both our first and third he was front and centre, albeit slightly off to the left.

Having laboured for so much of the first half against a deep-set and heavily fortified Brentford defence, I’m not quite sure how it came to pass in the first ten minutes of the second half that we kept catching them out of position, undermanned and generally disorganised and tripping over one another, but there we were. Gift-horses and all that.

And given this situation Udogie set about them with the relish of one who had elbowed his way to the front of the queue and could barely wait to be let loose. Udogie on the charge really is one of the finer sights in nature, a terrific combination of pace, technique, awareness, muscle and other wholesome stuff. When the call goes out for volunteers to stop the man in his tracks I can assure you that AANP would keep his head down and surreptitiously shuffle off into the background, and the Brentford mob similarly seemed not really to relish the fight.

For both our first and third goals, the marvellous specimen collected the ball around halfway and motored off towards the penalty area. For the first, having got this far and popped the thing off to Werner, he did not ease off with the air of one content with his night’s work and ready for a spot of refreshment, but treated the job as very much half-done and carried on sprinting. No doubt he benefited from a spot of bright and breezy fortune at that point – Brentford legs converging and the ball rebounding pretty kindly for him – but when one exhibits so many of the critical traits of an unstoppable force of nature, I tend to think that one earns a spot of luck.

And then, being one of those eggs who lives by the principle that if a thing works once it might as well be milked for a few more helpings of the good stuff, seven minutes later he set off on the charge again, sticking to the same geographical route – halfway line, left off centre – and opting to release the ball at pretty much the same moment.

At this point he did deviate from the blueprint, but it proved a strong choice, opting not to pass left to Werner but instead threading a pretty precise little number into Maddison in the penalty area, where further riches were to follow.

So three cheers for Udogie when gripped by the urge to make merry in the Brentford half; but by golly he did leave a trail of catastrophe behind him. In the first place the Brentford opener had at its genesis his misdirected pass on halfway. Under no pressure and with pretty much the entire cast list to aim at, it was careless in the extreme, what the racket-wielding folk refer to as an unforced error.

There is a sense in which that mistake for the first was considerably worse than that for the second, as the first was the sort you’d file under ‘Poor Play’, while the second seemed more along the lines of ‘Failing to Spot A Camouflaged Opponent’, which let’s face it, is one of the more unique categories around and not the sort of eventuality for which one trains.

Anyway, fail to spot him he did, and what ought to have been a bit of a cakewalk turned into the classic Nervous Final 20 At The Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. All’s well that ends well of course, and young Signor Udogie remains a particular favourite around these parts, but the urge to load up, take careful aim and fire into our own feet remains bizarrely strong around the on-field practitioners of N17.

2. The Defence in General

Udogie may have stolen the limelight when it came to knuckle-headed decisions, but watching Brentford repeatedly stroll unaccompanied through our half of the pitch and right up into our penalty area, in the first half, did reiterate that nagging sensation at AANP Towers that something might not be quite right with our defence.

As individuals, each of VDV, Romero, Porro and Udogie are top-notch, bursting at the seams with all manner of qualities. However, shove them together and instruct them to Angeball for an hour and a half, and they pretty swiftly degenerate into a quartet of drunks unclear what sport they are playing.

I suppose part of the challenge is Our Glorious Leader’s instructions, which seem to be along the lines that when one of the quartet is in possession, at least two of the others ought to leave their designated posts and go find some space elsewhere. To call this laden with risk is to understate the thing. It only takes one casually misplaced pass, a la Udogie last night and the opposition is away, with half a pitch to gallop into unopposed.

Brentford had clearly not just received the memo but had put in a fair amount of time studying it and turning it into a complete thesis, and as a result pressed our back-four at every opportunity. In turn, our back-four, diligently sticking to the values of Angeball, kept dicing with death – trying to pirouette around the opponent and so forth – achieving a success rate of approximately 50%.

As well as this business of losing possession on halfway and sprinting back to try saving the day in the nick of time, I also noted the pretty dubious behaviour of Cristian Romero in Brentford’s first goal. Having done the hard work of keeping pace with – and indeed gaining some ground on – Toney, rather than finish the job by steaming across and executing some form of meaty block, Romero opted to hold his line and give Toney a free hit at goal, which seemed unnecessarily generous.

In Romero’s defence, I understood the rationale – he presumably wanting to prevent a square pass to the onrushing Maupay, and banking on VDV’s pace take care of Toney. Nevertheless, it did strike me that he slathered on the business of backing off a bit too heavily. The key to the manoeuvre ought to have been subtlety, in edging towards Toney whilst keeping a watchful eye on Maupay, thereby keeping Toney in two minds. Instead, he might as well have hired one of those planes to fly over the stadium with a banner proclaiming that he was going to back right off Toney and block the pass, so if Toney wanted to get his shot off then the floor was his. I did not approve.

And my mood darkened further after Vicario saved the shot, as Romero simply slackened the shoulders and downed tools, evidently of the opinion that he had played his part in the scene, and the leftovers could be taken care of by those around him. It was quite the dereliction of duty, and an odd one coming from a chappie who does not seem himself unless flying full-blooded into some challenge or other, but off he clocked and Maupay seized the moment.

The curious lapses from Romero and Udogie can, I suppose, be excused as human error; but this business of being caught on halfway and then duking it out in a sprint to goal is rather more structural. It appears that we are stuck with it, however, as just one of those consequences of Angeball, the only remedy for which is simply to keep scoring more than the other lot, which should be a wheeze.

3. Werner

Fair to say it’s been a slightly underwhelming start to life in lilywhite for Herr Werner. He seems enthusiastic enough, and is obviously blessed with the ability to motor from A to B at a fair old lick, but once he’s got himself into a dangerous position he seems not quite to know what do next (or, in the case of shooting, how to do it). The general impression is of one whose northernmost tip simply cannot keep up with his southernmost base, those whirring little legs outpacing his brain each time.  

The vexing trend continued in the first half yesterday. Presumably under instruction, both he and Kulusevski tucked inside, to relatively narrow positions, which seemed right up Brentford’s street, and in general he seemed to pick wrong options.

However, life improved considerably in the second half. In the build-up to our first goal he pulled his usual trick of racing off into the distance in a puff of smoke, but where previously he has stuttered, and paused, and had a bit of a think, and then a bit of an overthink, this time he was a bit more committed in his conclusion, cutting back, sidestepping a couple of defenders and feeding young Udogie.

This seemed to do the chap a world of good. When released again a minute or so later he took it as his cue to deliver his finest moment yet in our colours, racing off again as is his preference, but then eschewing the usual option of slowing things down to pick through his options, and instead firing the ball across goal with a note pinned to it on which was scrawled the invitation ‘Tap me into the empty net, bitte’. Young Master Johnson duly licked his lips in the centre.

That particular sequence earned Werner a spontaneous ovation from AANP Towers. The obsession with inverted wingers, forever cutting inside to deliver their produce, has its value no doubt, but given that Werner’s pace will generally position him a yard ahead of his man, it does madden me somewhat that he repeatedly sacrifices that yard in order to cut back onto his right foot. There was no such rot last night for the second goal – once Werner was away, he evidenced a show of faith in his lesser-spotted left foot and it worked out splendidly for all concerned.

As with Kulusevski when stationed on the right, I yearn for him to display a bit more confidence in his weaker foot – and I do scratch the head and wonder how an elite-level player can get by in life with such reluctance to use it – but last night’s rich harvest ought to give him a spot of the old oil on this front.

And as a valedictory note, marvellous to observe that the resurgence of Richarlison continues apace, his goal arguably the least emphatic contribution of a night that included a decent repertoire of hold-up and link-up play.

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Spurs match reports

Spurs 0-1 Man City: Three Tottenham Talking Points

1. Vicario and The Goal

The fires of righteous indignation were blazing away like nobody’s business amongst vast swathes of lilywhites after that City goal, with “Foul play!” the principal anthem howled. One understands the sentiment, given that the City chappie was dancing a pretty intimate number with Vicario, but the sentiment at AANP Towers was to give the shoulders a shrug. Seen them given of course, but tend to roll the eyes skywards when they are.

‘Football-playing folk will inevitably bump limbs’ was the official line around these parts, and as the chap’s arms and elbows maintained a relatively conservative existence during the episode, rather than being flailed abaft the head in overly reckless fashion, I was pretty sanguine about the challenge. Spitting feathers and blood boiling at the concession of a late winner of course, ranting and blaspheming into the night sky at that, but not particularly outraged about the decision of the judiciary.  

Rather than launch into a passionate diatribe about the indignity of having his path hindered, I would have much preferred Vicario to have taken the more rudimentary approach in the first place of Cleaning Out Everyone In Front Of Him and Punching The Ball To Kingdom Come. Less scope for perceived injustices that way.

To his credit Vicario did actually get a fist to the thing, despite that City rascal whispering sweet nothings in his ear. His contact was hardly of the Kingdom Come variety, but he might nevertheless feel that he had put in place the basics and could reasonably look to a nearby associate to firm the thing up. It was rather a shame, then, that this part of the procedure having been ticked off, the ball bounced off the back of young Van de Ven, who seemed rather astonished to find himself in the vicinity, and neatly into the airspace of that Ake fellow.

Thereafter there was not much to be done, but with the dust having settled I hope that young Vicario, in his quieter moments, decides to focus his thousand hours of practice on that aforementioned art of C.O.E.I.F.O.H.A.P.T.B.T.K.C. Because in most other areas the chap seems well in control of matters – playing the ball from feet when under pressure, shot-stopping, and so forth. Indeed, these very qualities were proudly advertised on Friday night – City’s press being of the intense variety, and their shots low and punchy. As such, one would not want opponents to sniff a weakness at set-pieces and accordingly crowd and jostle our gate-keeper to within an inch of his life each time. Remedy that chink in the armour, young man.

2. Van de Ven (and Udogie)

Alongside Vicario, young Van de Ven struck me as one of the more impressive of our number. A blessed relief to have him back, for his composure and comfort in possession in the first place, but also, as he rather pointedly emphasised on several occasions, for his red-face-sparing pace, that allows him to save the day time and again, with the well-judged skin-of-the-teeth timing that is the hallmark of so many of life’s finest action heroes.

We muddled through with varying degrees of success without him, but having him back at times feels like having a twelfth player in the ranks. (As it happens, I feel similarly when casting the beady eye upon former N17 parishoner Kyler Walker.) That is to say, the day-job entails performing all the duties of any self-respecting centre-back, but, blessed with jet-heeled pace, young VDV is also able to masquerade as something of a sweeper, racing in from wherever he may be when emergency arises, to act as last line of defence and give it that Kingdom Come treatment. This flexibility was displayed against both Foden in the first half and De Bruyne in the second, to name but two instances, and is a mightily useful bonus string to the bow.

And while on the subject of those who performed adequately enough I might as well direct an admiring whistle towards young Signor Udogie, whose offensive and defensive mechanics both appeared to be in fine working order. Admittedly City had a bit too much joy down their left/our right in the first half, but when Udogie was put to the test in one-on-one combat he tended to deploy either or both of his speed and upper-body strength, as appropriate and to good effect. All a bit futile in the final analysis, but one ought to record such things.

3. Absent Friends

Whichever bean it was who came up with the gag that absence makes the heart grow fonder was clearly quite the football aficionado. It’s a maxim that has heightened the standing of many a Spurs player, from Gil and Winks to Sammways and Nayim, and while some of the aforementioned may have underwhelmed a tad when eventually given their opportunity, on Friday night it was with some legitimacy that I bemoaned the ongoing absences of Sarr, Son and Maddison (and, to an extent, Bissouma).

That midfield in particular needed a bit of guile and mischief. Bentancur, as ever, was doing a fine job of availing himself for passes from the centre-backs, and, despite the rather impatient intrusions from City’s forwards, upon receipt calmly spraying the ball to safe zones; but further forward for approximately an hour we did rather scream out for Maddison.

As has been remarked fairly widely, on a few occasions, various of our heroes overlooked the opportunity to release Herr Werner into wide open spaces, and I suppose one never really knows quite how things would have played out in an alternate universe, but one does moodily mutter that Maddison might have picked him out a bit more cannily than those honoured with selection from the start.

Sarr similarly would have been an asset, with Hojbjerg demonstrating once again that being an adequate sub to see out the final fifteen against a side from the bottom half does not really equate to being the measure of the best team on the planet; and seeing our lot labour to create or finish a decent chance worthy of the name I did also lament the ongoing absence of Sonny.

I suppose it’s more important that we stay in touch with the popular kids in the Title race (or Top Four/Five race if you prefer), than that we turn over Man City of all teams in the Cup. Despite the fact that lamentations towards the absence of a trophy ring louder at AANP Towers than in most places, I’d still take a loss against City at home in an early round of the Cup if we can instead turn them over in a few weeks’ time in the League. And as Our Glorious Leader loosely put it, there’s no huge shame in losing to that lot when they’re a good few years ahead of us in their development (and bank balance – witness them flinging on De Bruyne and Doku, and not even bothering to fling on Grealish, while we had the luxury of Dane Scarlett as our In Case of Emergency call).

So the frustration at the continued absences of key players ought not to be over-egged much further, but as one by one they slip back into the fold, by golly I hope, and to an extent envisage, that we can recreate that early season run of wins.

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Spurs match reports

Man Utd 2-2 Spurs: Three Tottenham Talking Points

1. Defence

Of course the return of Romero and VDV meant that the beady eye was on the Back Four from the off, eagerly watching the pair of them to check that all parts were in working order and good as new. However, events of the first half in particular rather shifted the gaze away from the central two, specifically about ten yards to their right, where time and again – and not for the first time this season – Pedro Porro achieved the remarkable feat of somehow appearing outnumbered in one-on-one situations.

This business of our back four defending narrowly, and allowing the opposition left wingers as much space as they fancy, keeps AANP up into the wee small hours with a mightily concerned frown. One understands that Ange-ball generally requires Porro to be loitering well in advance of the centre-backs when we’re in possession – meaning that when we lose the thing and our counter-attacked, he is generally a few yards out of position. One understands that opponents have cottoned on, and will generally look to shove a forward into this vacant space with the instruction ‘Make hay’ scrawled across their notepad.

So I suppose we’ll just have to bite the bullet to an extent, and accept that unless we surreptitiously stick a twelfth player out in the right-back area, we’ll be a tad vulnerable over there. But still. Once Porro is being sized up by an opposing attacker, I’d have thought it would make some sense to shove a reinforcement or two towards him. To the credit of whomever it concerns, this was duly done in the second half, Romero evidently regarding as a matter of urgency the need to toddle over and a bit of background muscle to Porro’s exchanges with Rashford or whomever.

But by then the damage had been done. Twice, in fact. Any opposing attacker with a trick or two in his box seems to stand a 50-50 chance of besting Porro and doing a spot of damage, and the Rashford eyes lit up in that first half. An isolated Porro, while not exactly a lamb to the slaughter, was certainly a lamb giving a nervous gulp or two.

Mightily annoying it was too, because but for those counter-attacks honed in on their left/our right, I didn’t think United had much about them. And for avoidance of misunderstanding, Porro’s delivery at times has the innocent onlooker absolutely purring, so this is by no means a call for punitive action against the solid young bean.

Back to VDV and Romero, and their mere presence did much to soothe what has been a pretty jittery AANP over the last couple of months. Romero missed few opportunities to put an end to a fledgling United attack with a well-timed and hefty size nine; VDV showed few signs of having forgotten how to ease from Trot to Sprint in the blink of an eye – it was good to have the pair back.

That said, neither were necessarily faultless. If one were to quibble they might ask whether Romero could have done more to prevent the first goal; and he also, as one would expect, took his opportunity to crunch the life out of a United sort near halfway. As for VDV, at one point in the first half he seemed consumed by the desire to dribble past a United forward right outside our own area, disappearing into quite the hole and requiring a spot of dustpan-and-brushing from a passing Bentancur.

But by and large the pair were watchful in defence and at times outstanding in possession – not least in the fabulous pass straight through the middle from Romero to Skipp, that set in motion our second. Nice to see live evidence too that the lad Dragusin is not one whose drink you would want to spill. All muscle and brawn, that lad.

2. The Midfield

It rather slipped under the AANP radar quite how light we were in midfield, but when the cast-list was announced the colour did rather drain from the face on seeing the names ‘Hojbjerg’ and ‘Skipp’ etched in alongside ‘Bentancur’.

The sagging of spirits was briefly paused in the opening exchanges, however, to be replaced by a pretty surprised raise of the eyebrow, as I tried to digest the sight of young Skipp seemingly being the furthest forward of the trio. Someone had to do it I suppose, and Skipp is nothing if not willing.

His was a fairly standard Skipp performance, which I thought was neatly encapsulated by his role in our second goal – oozing with the energy to receive Romero’s pass and set off over halfway, before almost gumming up the operation by sending his own pass the wrong side of Werner.

Now in Skipp’s defence he did ping one of the most scrumptious passes of the season towards the end of the first half, absolutely lashing a first-time volley from right of centre out towards the left wing, for an approving chum to race onto without breaking stride. AANP raised a glass to that one. But such a moment of quality was better filed under ‘Exception’ rather than ‘Norm’.

Bentancur, of course, purred his way through the entirety, as one would expect. At one point I heard the fellow on the telly-box describe him as “Knitting things together”, which I thought put it rather well.

And he took his goal mightily impressively too. Fool that I am, I had already flung the hands heavenward in agony at what I thought was a missed opportunity when he opted to take a second forward touch in the United six yard box rather than shooting there and then. I should have known better. Bentancur was in supreme control, and emphasised the fact by using his third touch to pointedly lash the thing into the roof of the net.

The third of the midfield triumvirate was Hojbjerg, who tends usually to hover between ‘Good’ and ‘Needs Improvement’ on the scale of these things. I thought he started pretty well, and AANP accordingly settled down for one of his better days. Aided, as anyone would be, by the presence of Bentancur alongside him, he seemed to use the ball sensibly enough; but towards the latter stages I though he slightly forgot the point of the exercise and began littering the place with misplaced passes and whatnot.

Aside from the individual offerings, there was a rather gaping hole when it came to a spot of creative spark from midfield, but I suppose if you take a perfectly strong squad and rip from it the three prime suspects in the field of Making Things Happen From The Centre, then one has to expect a decent helping of sideways passing and head-scratching.

3. Werner

In general one got the impression that our heroes were the better team, as evidenced by some lovely fluid passing from the rear-guard mob to the attacking mob, but there persisted throughout the nagging feeling that in matters of final third quality, the well was a little dry.

Young Johnson has spent the last few months doing all the hard work before making a solid mess of the final output, and lest anyone had needed reminding of this tendency he took every opportunity to demonstrate it again today. Now it should not be forgotten that he has chipped in with various critical passes creating goals in recent weeks, as well as taking a few licks of paint from the woodwork, but it’s reasonable to assert that the heart fills with hope rather than expectation when he revs up and hurtles down the right.

Senor Gil similarly is not the sort of huevo from whom one expects too much in the way of end-product. Not for want of trying, of course, but the more one watches Gil and Johnson’s attempted crosses miss their mark, the more one checks the Asian Cup fixture list.

Into this curious mix emerged Werner. And actually, he did just about everything one had anticipated of him, in both the credit and debit columns. From the off he showed himself to be the sort who will quite happily race to close down an opponent if it means that the reward manifests a stage or two later, in a turnover of possession further down the line.

Occasionally, we got a glimpse of the pace that apparently elevates him to cover 100 metres in 11 seconds, a stat that made me goggle a fair amount. And of course, his shots zoomed around in every direction but the net, which was entirely as advertised.

But he ran the good race, neatly setting up Bentancur for his goal and in general giving the impression that he knows the drill. As appropriate he ran at his man, or went on the outside, or cut inside, or just let wiser counsels prevail and allocated to a nearby chum. All perfectly acceptable stuff, and as his fitness goes up the requisite number of notches, and the mysteries of Ange-ball are further unravelled to him, one would anticipate that his usefulness will similarly shoot up the scale.

Historically, a point at Old Trafford would be a prompt for some meaningful handshakes all round, but make no mistake, this one leaves AANP grumping like the dickens for the rest of the evening. Our lot were marginally better in the first half and comfortably so in the second, which by maths means we should have won the thing by approximately 1.5 goals. Two points have slipped away, and I won’t hear any arguments to the contrary.

That said, with players missing, players returning and players debuting, on top of which we twice fell behind (away from home), the troops ought to be commended rather than censured for this one. Deep inside the corridors of power I can imagine that the sentiment of choice is, “Muddle through and stay in touch with the top spots until everyone returns.” This is no catastrophe, just a slight shame.

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Spurs match reports

Palace 1-2 Spurs: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1.  Davies vs Royal at Left-Back

Squad depth – or lack thereof – seems as likely as anything else to unstrap the safety harness and eject us from the vehicle this season. It’s hardly cold sweats in the middle of the night territory just yet, but the thought of pretty much any two or three of the choice XI (bar poor old Richarlison, perhaps) being simultaneously absented from a performance does make one widen the eyes and murmur, “Golly.”

And given this context I’ve been rather grateful to those gods responsible for these things for dealing us but a single absentee each week, allowing us just to dip a tentative toe into the ‘Strength In Reserve’ waters rather than having to plunge in fully and immerse the whole frame. Last week Bissouma was missing; this week Bissouma was back, and Udogie was missing.

In the sort of move that would baffle AANP’s better half, Our Glorious Leader therefore made an entirely rationale decision, and opted for Ben Davies – but any fans of like-for-like performance-matching might have been advised to prepare for a bit of a letdown. Where Udogie gives the term “Left-Back” the loosest possible interpretation, and bounds off to see what’s happening in midfield and attack and so forth, Davies’ approach is what you might call a tad more traditional.

Giving the air of a schoolboy who always did as told, Davies obediently trotted off to the left side of our defence, and made safe upkeep of this territory his priority. Which is not to say he didn’t partake in Ange-Ball and its liberal use of full-backs in attacking areas, but somehow when he ventured up the field he seemed to do so in a slightly robotic manner. If Richarlison received the ball on the left touchline and in advance of halfway, Davies took this as his cue, and dutifully trotted about 20 yards in advance of the action, and waved his arms around as instructed.

Now one could argue that this was precisely what was required, and in precisely the right circumstances – yet somehow this very precision was the problem. Much of the joy of Udogie’s performances is that one never knows quite what the hell he’ll do next, or where for that matter, whereas one could set one’s clock by Ben Davies.

On top of which, I’m not entirely convinced that Davies even had the conventional, defensive duties of a left-back entirely under control. Ayew and various others seemed to cause a spot of consternation down that particular flank, and with such limited outputs in either northerly or southerly directions, one understood the half-time move to trade in a Davies, B. for a Royal, E.

Emerson, whose lilywhite career has already waxed and waned like nobody’s business, is now finding himself having to make a fist of things as a reserve inverted left-back. And while on paper this might sound a bit thick for a born and bred right-back, it’s a role so madcap that it suited rather well a chap quite clearly missing a few key screw upstairs. Emerson swiftly beetled off into a deep-lying central midfield sort of role – alongside Porro, naturally – and the slightly chaotic nature of Ange-Ball’s formations was restored.

2. Richarlison vs Brennan Johnson

As ever, it was a tough old gig for Richarlison, who could not look more like a square peg struggling with a round hole if he were composed entirely of right angles and straight lines. As ever, there was no faulting his effort. Worker ants of the tireless variety could take a few tips from the lad, as he closed down Palace defenders, tracked back after their more attacking bimbos and patiently tried to outwit his man when actually in possession.

He might even have set up a first half goal, and quite brilliantly too, stretching all available sinews to head delicately back into play a ball that seemed to be sailing pretty serenely off into the stands – only for Maddison to lash the resulting gift off into the gods.

But while the various members of the backroom staff will no doubt be lining up to slap his back and commend him on his effort, the slightly awkward truth is that he’s not really delivering much in the way of an attacking harvest.

It’s probably worth reiterating his value in assisting our high press, for this seems to have brought about a decent percentage of the goals we’ve scored in recent weeks – and I can think of one recently-departed member of this parish who, for all his goalscoring, didn’t have the puff to chase down the opposition defence non-stop over the course of a full 90.

But alas. When it came to key passes, tantalising crosses or shots on target, the cup could hardly be said to floweth over. There have been a few inviting passes into dangerous areas during Richarlison’s stint on the left, and a fair number of shots from in and around the area, of varying degrees of inaccuracy. All ten-out-of-ten-for-effort sort of stuff, but it’s not really only effort we’re after, what?

Enter Brennan Johnson, who within about two shakes of a lamb’s tail had played a pretty critical part in a goal, first in rather inventive use of the forehead to control a cross and pass to a chum in the same motion; and then in dashing to the by-line to set up Sonny for a tap-in.

Better minds than mine will pore over the tactical minutiae that distinguished Richarlison’s performance from Johnson’s, but, put bluntly, we just seem to have a bit more attacking threat with the latter buzzing around on the left. One for Our Glorious Leader to ponder in the coming days.

3. Neil Ruddock and Des Walker

Back in the summer of 1993, a pre-teen AANP could be heard excitedly nattering away to anyone who would listen, and many who wouldn’t, that the gossip pages of 90 Minutes and Shoot and whatnot suggested that the lightning quick feet of Des Walker would imminently be speeding around the hallowed turf of White Hart Lane. This would have been pretty sensational stuff on its own, but the prospect of the jet-heeled Walker partnering with resident centre-back Neil Ruddock, a chap whose dispute-settling style might generously be termed ‘firm’, had the youthful AANP pretty giddy with excitement.

Alas, in confirmation of what had gone before, and a dashed certain omen of what was to come, Spurs rather broke my heart, by not only failing to bring Walker to our shores, but also parting with Ruddock that same summer.

The intervening thirty years spent watching our heroes have occasionally been somewhat trying – in fact, at times, particularly during the 90s, it felt like the life has rather drained from my core while watching our lot – but finally it feels that that promise of pace and power at the heart of our defence is being realised. Van de Ven and Romero are quickly morphing into a pretty sensational combo.

Both are about as comfortable in possession as central defenders come these days, which I’m not sure is the sort of accusation that could ever have been levelled at either of Messrs N.R. or D.W. But it is the glorious marriage of Romero’s clattering tackles – light on nonsense, heavy on force – and VDV’s swiftness of travel between points A and B that gives the impression that we have stumbled upon something special here.

Both were, in their own ways, in fine old fettle on Friday night. When Palace did breach the rear – which they did a mite too often in the first half – it seemed to be despite rather than because of our centre-backs, and indeed, Romero and VDV could as often as not be spotted planting a well-timed intervening clog in the way of things, to abate incoming trouble.

The earlier concern, about the potential absence of critical bodies, applies more to Romero and VDV than most, and another Top Four-standard centre-back will almost certainly be needed at some point between now and May. For the time being however, we might as well just enjoy the rare delights of a solid centre-back pairing.

4. Slow-Slow-Fast

My old man, AANP Senior, had the honour of being a regular at the Lane during our Double-winning season no less, so was presumably as excitable as the rest of us in his prime; but now, in his 91st year, he casts the beady eye in rather less forgiving manner. And when Messrs Romero and Vicario spent sizeable chunks of the second half dwelling on the ball under no pressure, before shrugging their shoulders and rolling it between each other, a certain cantankerous gruffling emanated from the aged relative. He was not amused.

Which was a shame, because I thought it was an absolute blast. Palace, understandably enough, had had a game-plan at nil-nil, to sit back and allow our goalkeeper and defenders all the possession they wanted, safe in the knowledge that no harm would come of it. But once our lot were one-nil up, it took a while for Palace to compute that their cause was not helped by simply sitting back and allowing Romero and Vicario to light cigars and natter away amongst themselves.

Eventually therefore, our hosts rather reluctantly committed a body or two towards the ball, and our heroes duly picked them off with aplomb. On several occasions, as soon as a Palace forward inched towards Romero or Vicario, one or other of this pair expertly bisected approximately half their team with a sudden forward pass into midfield.

This in itself provided a healthy dollop of aesthetic reward, but the fun didn’t stop there, as those receiving the thing in midfield were clearly well up on current events, and fully aware of the next stage of the plan. Whether it was Hojbjerg, Porro, Maddison or Sarr, the midfield johnnie receiving the ball would ping it wide, first-time and on the half-turn, and before you could say “This slow-slow-quick approach allows our lot to cut through Palace like a knife through butter, what?”, our heroes were in on goal.

This impeccable choreography was rarely better displayed than in our second goal, that slow-slow-quick approach being at the very core of the move. Romero dwelt and dwelt before neatly picking out Hojbjerg, and he swiftly conveyed the thing to Sarr, who crowned what I thought was a man-of-the-match performance with a glorious cross-field switch, from an innocuous right-back position over to Brennan Johnson in a more threatening left-wing spot. Johnson, as alluded to earlier, used his head to good effect, and a couple of classic Ange-Ball one-touch passes later Sonny was tapping in from point-blank range.

The move, in its entirety from back to front, was an absolute masterpiece, and while the television bods seemed to underplay it a tad, the fact that even AANP Senior was moved to mutter a pithy word or two of semi-satisfaction more accurately reflected its quality.

The late goal – which could be pinned pretty squarely on the otherwise decent Porro – was a reminder to our lot not to settle in for their nap before time is up, but this on balance was another deserved win, leaving only the question of whether Bentancur and Gil will make enough appearances this season to collect their League-winners’ medals in May.

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Spurs match reports

Spurs 2-0 Fulham: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. Hojbjerg

Evidence of the last couple of months suggests that, even though obliged to change his preferred XI by the rules and regulations, Ange did so only with the greatest reluctance, and likely a decent slab of harrumphing. But there we were, Bissouma’s previous follies meaning that Hojbjerg received a promotion, and at AANP Towers we rubbed an ever-so-slightly nervous chin before the curtain went up.

Anyone expecting Hojbjerg simply to get his head down and mimic the every shoulder-drop and forward burst of Bissouma would, of course, have been misreading the situation pretty drastically. Messrs P-E.H. and Y.B. are radically different beasts. Mercifully, however, if one could have drawn up a list beforehand of the preferred fixtures in which to replace the buzz and drive of Bissouma with the stasis and arm-flapping of Hojbjerg, I think a home date with Fulham might well have been pretty high up the list.

And frankly, it proved as gentle a stroll as hoped. In fact, in those opening ten minutes it appeared that we might not need Hojbjerg at all. As against Luton last time out, we had much of the runaway train about our work in last night’s opening scenes, running rings around our opponents and without too much need for the deeper-lying folk. This seemed to owe much to our pressing (which was mightily impressive throughout, strangling the life out of Fulham in their own half, bringing about both goals and generally compensating for a fair amount of sloppiness in the second half).

Back to Hojbjerg, and to his credit he did the various odd-jobs asked of him with pretty minimal fuss. The setup seemed to require him to fill in around various unglamorous locations towards the rear, but Hojbjerg being one of those curious eggs whose take on life is that the grubbier the task the better, this turned out to be a pretty convenient marriage. Fulham tried to clear to halfway, and Hojbjerg stepped up to snuffle it out; our heroes were forced to poke the ball backwards for a moment, and Hojbjerg availed himself to receive and re-distribute; and for good measure, when we threatened to become irresponsibly blasé about a one-goal lead, Hojbjerg was there to win possession high up the pitch and set up Sonny to set up Maddison for our second.

On the debit side, he did pick up an unnecessary and slightly odd booking, for opting to lunge at a Fulham body, changing his mind about matters fairly swiftly but finding that the laws of physics prevented him from effecting any alteration, and having simply to skid irresistibly about ten yards along the turf until he ploughed into his man; but then on the credit side he also played one of the passes of the season, about midway through the first half, reversing matters from left to right in a Harry Kane sort of way; so all told it was a perfectly acceptable night’s work.

Not a performance to win him any awards, nor to earn him a starting spot when Bissouma returns; but he did not look miles off the pace nor appear visibly out of sync when stepping into a unit that has been tightly-knit without him for 8 games, so he probably merits a nod of acknowledgement.   

2. Udogie

Never mind the miracles Big Ange has worked for our lot – his decision to hook young Master Udogie before we hit the 60-minute mark has left a pretty sickly hue over my fantasy team, so I’ll be demanding a full explanation at our next tete-a-tete.

I don’t know about you, but Udogie – or rather the positions and instructions Udogie is given – make my mind boggle like nobody’s business. It’s one of those awkward situations in which the more one tries to understand the thing the more complicated it all seems to become.

What I’m getting at is where the devil does he actually play? Convention would dictate ‘left-back’; the achingly fashionable amongst us call it ‘inverted full-back’; but watching the match unfold he seemed to decide that it was open season anywhere on the left, and if he had to slap a hand on the Bible and absolutely swear under oath he’d announce that an attacking midfield role, ever-so-slightly left of centre, was the spot for him. And since everyone around him was too polite or too consumed with their own affairs to correct him, there he stayed.

In the interests of accuracy, I probably ought to acknowledge that when we were out of possession he did trot back to an old-fashion left-back spot. In general, however, I cast a beady eye, spotted him a-wandering and duly scratched my head.

Anyway, whatever the hell you want to call his role, he did it pretty well, at least in an attacking sense. Maddison, as ever, was the brains of the operation, but I derived a fair amount of enjoyment in seeing Fulham simply unable to cope with the mere presence of Udogie as an additional forward body, adding to the numbers and generally making a nuisance of himself in between Richarlison and Son.

Out on the other side, Porro seemed more inclined to obey the rules of convention and hover within spitting distance of the touchline, generally limiting himself to one or two visits to the opposition area; but Udogie appears constantly to be one well-timed burst away from being our second striker.

As is often the case with these things, absence makes the heart grow fonder, and when Udogie was removed I thought we missed him somewhat. Emerson Royal, being a barmy sort, gave his own, rather madcap interpretation of the role, and with the entire collective being not quite at the races in the second half, the quality dipped notably.

So while I don’t pretend to understand his precise purpose, with each game I enjoy more and more the input from young Udogie, and hope that his early retirement last night was merely precautionary.

3. Romero

Not for the first time, some occasionally breathtaking football did not quite produce the rich harvest one would have hoped, and with only one first half goal to show for our efforts, those in the rear needed to pay a dashed sight more attention than one would have thought necessary.

At this point one could easily have gazed into the mid-distance, painted vivid images in the mind’s eye of Van de Ven neatly defusing bombs and extinguishing fires – and perfectly weighting passes that led directly to our opener, come to think of it – and purred appropriately at the chap for his highly impressive Jan Vertonghen Tribute Act.

But instead the AANP eye was drawn more towards the other side of central defence, where young Romero was busily plotting a flawless course through the night. Whenever Fulham broke down our right – and it seemed to happen far too often for my liking, considering the one-sided nature of proceedings – we seemed rather taken by surprise, as if such an eventuality simply hadn’t figured in all the pre-match planning. It was all a little too easy for Fulham to use that route to get within shooting distance. Where Senor Porro was in all this I’m not too sure, but happily the 2023/24 version of Cristian Romero has such matters well in hand.

On several occasions Romero popped up in precisely the spot in which trouble appeared about to befall, and for good measure, rather than simply blooting the ball to kingdom come, he typically had the presence of mind to make good use of it, either with a calming pass sideways, or, occasionally, with a gallop up the pitch.

As the game wore on and all in lilywhite cared less and less, Romero was called upon to do more than just intercept loose balls in his own area, increasingly being called upon to sprint back towards his own goal and put a lid on any looming trouble.

Much has been made of the calmer and wiser Romero, who this season thinks before hacking to pieces an opponent, but even with this new thoughtful head atop his shoulders, he still took every opportunity to put a bit of meaning into his tackles, going to ground and caring little if he upset the surrounding furniture.

As mentioned, Van de Ven did everything asked of him on the left, but I did particularly enjoy Romero’s bad-cop routine on the right.

4. Vicario

I trust that when Signor Vicario dived beneath the duvet and started totting up sheep last night, he was able to reflect on a pretty satisfactory day’s work for the employer. So far this season the young bean has attracted plaudits as much for his contributions to penalty area keep-ball as anything else, but last night he was called upon on a couple of occasions to lend a hand in the more traditional sense, and he did so in mightily impressive fashion.

It was the first half save that really caught the eye. A full-length extension, to a headed effort that for all the world looked already to be nestling in the net, was not to be sniffed at. Moreover, this came when the score was still 0-0, and when, although our lot were dominant, it was not yet clear that Fulham would be quite as bad as they were. It was worth a goal, and young Master V. ought to be serenaded appropriately for his efforts.

He had to make a couple more sharp-ish stops towards the end of things too, at that point at which a pact seemed to have been agreed by all concerned that 2-0 it would be, yet Fulham sneakily tried to score anyway. These later saves were a dash more straightforward, the ball being leathered pretty much straight at his frame, but I can think of former members of the parish who might have made a pig’s ear of them. They needed saving; and save them Vicario did.

Ironically enough, for one whose major contribution to date has been his confidence and capability with ball at feet, Vicario actually dropped something of a clanger in precisely that field in the first half, gifting possession to some Fulham sort inside our own area. Luckily enough, one of the main principles of the day – that Fulham were dreadful from root to stem – was swiftly reinforced, and they made little of the moment, but I thought it was a pleasing indication of quite how much Vicario has already banked that none in the galleries reacted with any opprobrium towards him.

5. A Below-Par Second Half

By my reckoning we ought to have been about 6-2 up at half-time, but instead had to make do with just the one – which would have been reasonable enough had we begun the second half with the same vim and vigour as that with which we ended the first.

Alas, our lot appeared to have tucked into sizeable portions of pasta at half-time, quite possibly washed down with an ale or two, because the sluggish second half approach was very much that of a troupe who felt their night’s serious business was done, and were content to pay only the loosest attention to proceedings for the remainder, seemingly adopting the view that any matters of precision and accuracy would take care of themselves.

Against anyone else this might have been a problem. Mercifully, Fulham – and in particular that lad Bassey, at the back – appeared to be Spurs fans at heart, and did their best to ensure a smooth passage to victory for us, both in spurning an alarming number of late chances but also, crucially, in gifting us a second goal to wrap things up, just when it seemed that we were starting to lose control of things.

How our heroes might have coped with the late concession of a goal, bringing the score back to 2-1, will forever remain unknown, but AANP certainly ground a displeased tooth as that second half unfolded. One would hope that the careless attitude was a product of the circumstance – a poor opponent; the sense that we could go up a gear or two if needed; the fixture list throwing up another joust on Friday night – but I would much rather have seen us roll up sleeves, apply boot to neck and see off the thing a little more professionally.

Still, it ended up being a mightily comfortable win, and with the Title now practically sewn up, the only question left at AANP Towers is whether we will bag the FA Cup as well.

Categories
Spurs match reports

Brentford 2-2 Spurs: Seven Tottenham Talking Points

1. Vicario

Beginning geographically, and our newest custodian actually began his lilywhite career by making a solid pig’s ear of things, with a pass firmly planted off into the stands. Thereafter, however, Vicario certainly gave the impression of being well fitted by Nature for life with the ball at his feet. In fact, at times he came across as one of those chappies in a 5-a-side team who takes their stint in goal only because they absolutely have to, but is far happier outfield and will make the point by regularly straying out of their area to join in the keep-ball.

And in that respect I thought he ticked along nicely. Easy to forget, but in recent years we’ve been treated to the sight of Lloris’ brain appearing to melt every time he had to deal with the ball at his feet. Vicario by contrast was pretty laid-back about ball-on-turf matters.

I must admit that the sight of him casually stroking the ball to a chum on our penalty spot quickened the old pulse a dashed sight more than is ideal on a Sunday afternoon, but he seemed to consider it all a bit of a non-event and just kept doing it. And since nobody around him demurred, and given that it was also entirely in keeping with the broader Ange-ball approach, I fairly quickly became a fully paid-up signatory.

In other respects there were limited grounds for wild and premature over-reactions. He had no chance with either goal; claimed the occasional cross; and pootled off on one ill-advised little wander late one, which on another day might have resulted in another penalty. But by and large he kept his head down and amused himself by milking every opportunity to play the ball with his feet.

2. Van de Ven and Udogie On the Left

A nervous eyebrow was raised pre-match at the sight of both of Messrs VDV ^Udogie stationed across the left side of our back four. Not to cast aspersions on their characters or abilities of course, or to question the impeccable judgement of our newest grand fromage, but still. Throwing in one fellow for his first taste of life in a Spurs defence does prompt the sharp intake of breath and silent prayer – and, frankly, carries the risk of traumatising the young nib in question – but one generally reassures oneself by looking along the line at more experienced bods east and west.

To have two such new faces stationed at the back suggested that Ange either brimmed with confidence in the abilities of both, or was happy to play pretty fast and loose with our back-line.

Mercifully, it proved a pretty inspired call. Van de Ven came across as one of those chaps who knew where and when a crisis might brew and his services be required, and conscientiously galloped off to the appropriate coordinates on schedule. He was pretty unfortunate to pop the ball into his own net, but that deflection aside his touch looked pretty assured, and the fabled burst of pace was in good working order throughout.

Young Master Udogie was even more impressive. I’m glad that he rather than I was asked to bob about the place as an ‘inverted full-back’, because the concept makes my head swim a goodish bit, but he seemed pretty up-to-speed with the T’s and C’s of the deal. It seemed a nifty concept, allowing for an extra body in attack, and Udogie did it well; but crucially also had the good sense to keep an eye on his defensive duties at all times. He is evidently the sort of johnnie who takes the defensive stuff pretty seriously too, as witnessed by some robust thou-shalt-not-pass stuff at various points in the second half in particular.

When one realises that the main defensive lapses had their genesis on our right side, one appreciates all the more the efforts of VDV and Udogie, the contrast between this pair on the left and the Emerson-Sanchez axis on the right being noticeable.

3. Bissouma

Possibly foremost amongst a healthy selection of positives were the works and deeds throughout of one Yves Bissouma. After some pretty underwhelming stuff from him last season, this felt a lot more like the laddie about whom we all raved and back-slapped last summer when he first pitched up at the door.

In fact, this actually surpassed what I had been expecting of him last season. To my shame, I had him down as pretty much Destroyer of Opposing Bright Ideas, and little else. Mark my surprise, then, when I realised as today’s frolics unfolded, that the fellow is actually also an impish master of the Fleet-Footed Skip Around Attempted Opposing Challenges. Put another way, I assumed Bissouma’s trademark would be his tackling; I was ill-prepared for adeptness also in the field of dribbling.

And yet, with a dip of the shoulder and a spot of close control, he could often be spotted weaving his way forward past a challenge or two before handing the mic over to a nearby chum to clear their throat and hammer out a line of their own. I’ll whisper it, and qualify it as dreadfully early to say such things, but it even reminded me of the way one Mousa Dembele would transfer matters from his own half to the opposition’s, leaving bystanders to do little more than flap at him.

With Maddison (more on whom below) alongside – or, rather – further forward to receive Bissouma’s produce, the midfield actually began to glisten a bit, a million miles from the drudgery of last year. Give everyone a bit of time to get used to the new way of things, and then throw in Bentancur in a few months, and this really could be mouth-watering stuff.

4. Maddison

Maddison was another who attracted the approving nod from this quarter. It’s no particular exaggeration to suggest that he is the first creative midfielder we’ve had in our ranks since Eriksen oiled off, but whereas a bête noire of mine about the latter was that he would too often drift on the periphery of matters, Maddison seemed possessed of just the right level of confidence-bordering-on-arrogance to elbow his way into the centre of things and demand possession at every given opportunity.

And once given possession, he peddled a dashed handy line in making things tick. Not all his attempted tricksy diagonals and cute reverse passes necessarily came off, but he tried them throughout, and fed into the overall narrative of our lot as a team with a bit of zip and creativity about us.

He also has a most becoming habit of collecting the ball on the half-turn and leaving a flailing opponent in his rear-view mirror. The progressive shuffle from Bissouma around halfway, to Maddison inside the opponents’ half, and then on again towards Richarlison or Kulusevski or whomever, was pleasing to observe.

On top of which, that free-kick delivery for our opener was as much a joy to behold as it was no doubt fiendishly difficult to defend. Another most useful string to the bow.

5. The Rest of the Midfield (Bundling in Emerson, Son and Kulusevski Here, As Well As Skipp)

However, while Bissouma and Maddison caught the eye, I feel I would be wilfully deceiving to suggest that Skipp reached similar heights. He was certainly there, in the flesh, no doubt about it, and presumably statistics abound to suggest that he completed passes and covered a few miles, but I do struggle to remember contributing much to the overall jamboree. This may be a good thing, I suppose, in a ‘ticking things over’ sort of way. But nevertheless, as he departed the scene, the words ‘Hojbjerg Tribute Act’ rather cruelly sprang to mind.

The other questionable element in midfield was Emerson Royal. I use the term ‘midfield’ a little loosely, but you get my drift – part of the new whizzy set-up evidently involves the right-back shuffling into a deep-lying central midfield sort of area, and one understands the logic. Credit to the chap also, for daring to take a shot, a strategy that most of his chums seemed to regard often with suspicion and at times a deep-rooted aversion.

But nevertheless, if we are to stick an extra body in midfield, I would vote in future for someone a bit cannier on the ball than Emerson. Put bluntly, Trent he is not.

Moreover, for all the modern tweaking to his roles and responsibilities, Emerson’s job title remains ‘Right-Back’, and in this respect he was far from flawless, not least in allowing the equaliser (and very nearly a third on the stroke of half-time).

And one further, slightly deleterious consequence of the new-fangled formation is that it struck me as slightly limiting the contributions of Messrs Son and Kulusevski. I suppose they might just have had subdued days, or not quite grasped the intricacies of their respective roles, but both seemed a little marooned out wide, and either reluctant to or forbidden from venturing into more central areas. One about which our newest Glorious Leader can give the chin a few further strokes, perhaps.  

6. Richarlison

A brief note on poor old Richarlison, who will no doubt be eternally damned by some for the crime of not being Harry Kane.

I suspect even his most ardent fans would admit that his afternoon’s work was fairly unspectacular stuff. He had perhaps two chances, neither of which were entirely straightforward, and neither of which he made the most of. In truth it seemed to me that for all their willing and endeavour, those around him did not quite know how best to service the chap, and, as a result, for all his huff and puff there was little chance of him blowing anything down in a hurry.

A slightly more developed understanding between Richarlison and the other 10 will presumably evolve in time – and this hits upon a point I was yammering on about to anyone who would listen pre-match, viz. that his dubious stats from Season 22/23 were based on intermittent appearances and rarely in the Number 9 role. To suggest that his limited output last season is down to plain ineptitude would rather overstate things a bit too dramatically.  Given the opportunity this season for a run of matches, in the central striking role he occupies for Brazil, I would have thought there is a good chance he’ll start popping away his opportunities.

Moreover, as my Spurs-supporting chum Dave pointed out, Richarlison’s out-of-possession strengths, specifically in leading the high press, adds an element to our play that we didn’t necessarily have with the last chap leading the line. Specifically, he conjectured that part of the reason we had so much possession and looked the likelier winners, in the second half in particular, was that Richarlison’s beavering meant Brentford’s centre-backs rarely had sufficient time to play the ball out.

7. Ange-Ball

AANP’s pre-match prediction had been “4-3, to whom I’m not sure,” and if that were a tad fanciful I was pretty satisfied nevertheless with what I witnessed. There’s the obvious caveat that we didn’t actually win the bally thing, and to emerge with a draw despite having dominated a lot of possession hardly screams a successful day out; but that I grudgingly accept a draw away to a proven and settled Brentford side already seems an improvement on last season’s (and indeed the previous seasons’) drudgery.

For a start, this was vastly more fun to watch than the previous seasons’ fare. Whichever member of our gang was in possession today was pretty intent on finding a short pass as a matter of urgency. While this led to a few comical exchanges of multiple short-distance one-twos, overall the effect was most pleasing upon the eye. Unlike in previous seasons, those in our colours seemed pretty clear on the game-plan.

Understanding between those on the pitch will presumably take some time to develop, but whereas in previous seasons the poor blighter in possession would often give his arms a flap and spend a good five seconds searching for an option before spinning around and blooting the dashed thing south, today the default was to venture north, and passing options abounded.

There are, naturally, plenty of areas for improvement – as mentioned earlier we were rather shot-shy; Sonny and Kulusevski seem a tad forlorn; right-back remains a slightly squiffy issue; and so on – but here at AANP Towers this certainly felt like a pretty sizeable breath of fresh air, and a marked change from and improvement upon what had gone before.  

Categories
Spurs news, rants

Spurs’ Pre-Season: Eight Tottenham Talking Points

What ho. With the new season rumbling into view we might as well pour ourselves a splash of something with a bit of oof to it, and bring ourselves up to speed on recent events, what?

1. Ange Postecoglou

Now here’s a man the cut of whose jib I can straight away give the approving nod. Ultimately, of course, it will all come down to the meat and veg of the Premier League, but nevertheless, Ange has all made all the right moves so far.

For a start there are his no-nonsense interviews, giving short shrift to baiters and sycophants alike, and generally cutting through the guff. His response to the Bayern shirt stunt in particular, and the Kane noise in general, has neatly summed up much of what there is to like about the fellow – not one to suffer fools, not one to skirt around a point and, one gets the impression, not the sort of chap one wants to antagonise any more than is absolutely necessary.

Nor does the new man give the impression that this set of players, fans, team and whole bally undertaking is beneath him, à la the last couple of incumbents. Whether or not one whole-heartedly buys into every quirk and idiosyncrasy, the broad approach – of wanting to roll up the sleeves and get the best out of our mob – is easy enough to get on board with.

I was also rather taken by Postecoglou’s comments about our heroes’ collective approach to those last few minutes of the first half against Shaktar. The gist of his thoughts on the matter were that, as a collective, they needed a slap about the face with a wet fish (I paraphrase) for indulging in a spot of motions-going-through and clock-playing-down as the half-time whistle approached.

Ange-ball, it appears, does not tolerate taking one’s foot off the pedal and batting for the close of play, as it were. His anthem is something more along the lines of ‘If we have the ball let’s dashed well attack, irrespective of the clock’, and this attitude meets with a pretty rousing chorus of approval at AANP Towers.

2. The New Style of Play

And then there’s the breath of fresh air that is our new style of play. Having spent the last three years positively yowling for something at least vaguely progressive, and instead being treated to a diet of deep-lying defences and vain attempts to soak up pressure – despite the attacking riches available – to say that Ange-ball is a pretty welcome sight understates the thing just a bit.

My spies who like to sit there and count these sorts of things reckon that in the three games so far we’ve totalled over 100 shots on goal. Now caveats abound of course. Our opponents have been so alarmingly weak that I suspect we’d have triumphed even if playing with boots tied together and blindfolds about the head. But nevertheless, it’s hard to imagine racking up a century of shots against these three in the Jose or Conte eras.

And the football itself has quite simply been a lot more fun to watch. It’s all a bit zippier for a start, with one- and two-touch gospels evidently having been drilled into hearts and minds throughout the place.

There seems to have been a collective agreement amongst our lot that these days the ball is going to be shoved from Defence to Midfield to Attack without too many wistful glances backward.

The days of having two poor saps in midfield outnumbered and flogged until they can barely stand also appear to have been given the Orwellian heave-ho. It’s a three-man job these days – or at least it will be on the shiny TV graphics pre-match, but once the starter’s gun fires our lot seem to be buzz about all over the place, with full-backs inverting and midfielders dropping and goodness what else. But AANP is not one to get too bogged down in the minutiae of life. Give me a good bourbon and some one-touch triangles, and I’m a pretty content sort of conker. And the early indications are that Ange-ball’s attacking 4-3-3 will hit the spot.

Until we have to defend, of course.

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose is the rather wearied AANP take on our the current state of our back-four. Which is to say it’s pretty much the same old rot in the southernmost quarter, what? Better minds than mine can no doubt grab a scalpel and get into the small-print of precisely how and why we’re conceding chances and goals to even the most amateurish teams out there, but the general sense is that it remains awfully straightforward to waltz through our lot and have a pop.

Reinforcements are apparently incoming (and for what it’s worth, I’d give serious consideration to sacrificing one of my lesser-used limbs in order to secure the services of that Laporte bean), but when Ben Davies is being preferred at centre-back to Messrs Sanchez, Tanganga, Rodon and whomever else, one does conjure up the image of a rather stern-looking Ange giving the barrel a good scrape.

Still, such things take time to perfect, I suppose, and the grand fromage does at least appear acutely aware that the current back-four, and in particular the coterie of centre-backs, is not really fit for purpose.

3. Maddison

So to our new arrivals, and the early indications are that James Maddison is pretty much everything we hoped and dreamed.

Not without good reason Daniel Levy takes the occasional slosh around the ear from the faithful, but credit where due, he didn’t hang around in crossing t’s and dotting i’s to get young J. M. bunged into an uber heading up the High Road. The apparent price was pretty reasonable, and again, a silent prayer of thanks was offered for Levy not pulling his usual stunt of haggling over the last fiver and whatnot.

And the chap himself seems to have taken to life in our midfield without too much fuss, and actually with a fair amount of pleasure. It’s no exaggeration to say it’s been years since we had a spot of creativity in central midfield, and with a couple of chums handily placed around him to keep an eye on things, Maddison has appeared to have a whale of a time so far. Long may that continue.

4. Manor Solomon

The ins and outs of his transfer may be a tad confusing to simple folk such as AANP, but on the pitch young Solomon seems to have a few good habits about him.

Some quick-footed trickery is always a good bet to melt the hearts of the watching public, but counts for naught if it ends with a fellow skipping off into a cul-de-sac and ending up in a heap on the floor. Mercifully however, this Solomon bean appears to have the good sense to attach a spot of end-product to his hop-skip-and-jumping, and is happy to hang up a cross or deliver a pull-back as appropriate.

One rather disappointing offshoot of the Solomon Gambit appears to be the elbowing out of shot of young Bryan Gil, a creature of whom I’d grown rather fond in his occasional cameos last season. Injured, at the moment, apparently, but once fit I imagine he’d be quite a long way down the waiting list.

I also personally hope that Ivan Perisic sticks around, particularly if he is to be relieved of defensive duties and deployed solely in the wide attacking role for which Nature appears to have fitted him. Not necessarily a popular opinion, that one, so I won’t labour it, but if the ability to beat a man and whip in a cross with either foot is of value, then he strikes me as an egg it is worth having about the place.

5. Vicario

The brow furrows a bit here, I must confess. A bit early to make any sort of call on the new chappie tasked with ensuring the back-door is locked. All goals he’s conceded so far seem to have come from close range and not really given him too much chance.

That said, of the snippets of action over which I’ve cast my eye, I’ve not really had the old skirt blown up by his attitude towards dealing with crosses, he not yet having given the impression of being of the school of wiping out all in his path and thwacking the ball away with a bit of meat.

He does at least appear to be a bit more comfortable with ball at feet than poor old Monsieur Lloris – a low bar admittedly – and these days all the young folk are starting attacks from goal-kicks, so we might as well not fight it. But one over whom to keep a watchful eye, for now.

6. Van de Ven

AANP has spent his summer in man edifying ways – improving the mind, penning a book or two, giving the Aussies some clobber from the sidelines – but alas, I must confess that that time has not really been spent poring over hours of footage of young Master Van de Ven.

As such, he’s a bit of an unknown quantity in these parts; but consider at least what is known about the fellow. For a start, he’s supposed to one of the quicker of the featherless bipeds plying their trade in these parts – and if we’re going to be playing a high line, that will likely be a handy trait.

He’s also left-footed, which might not sound like much I suppose, but in his line of work, and given the current state of our centre-back menagerie, actually fits rather swimmingly into the broader piece.

None of this conjecture counts for much of course, until Sunday lunchtime, but with Eric Dier still knocking about the place as first reserve I fancy we have a further spot of shopping to do. In theory at least, a Romero-VDV defensive combo sounds like it ought to hit the spot. Fingers crossed for the chap.

7. Fare Thee Well, Young Master Winks

A quick valedictory note on poor old Harry Winks too, who’s biffed off down a division, which seems a tad unfortunate, to Leicester.

The young sport was never short of willing or devotion to the club, and as such will always be welcome for a bourbon at AANP Towers, but he was definitely one of those – and we’ve had a few – who appeared to have a lot of the ‘Cultured Midfielder’ about him but somehow seemed unable to kick on.

A decent enough first touch, and a willingness to collect the ball from his defensive chums seemed to bode well, but was too often topped off with an immediate shovel straight back to the defence, rather than an instinct for something a bit more ambitious.

Still, the chap was arguably our best player in the Champions League Final, which sounds like being an unlikely quiz question in years to come. So he’s no doubt deserving of kind words, but sic transit gloria mundi and all that. Better for everyone this way.

8. Kane

Who knows, eh?

Opinions differ, naturally, and the AANP take is that I’d rather have Kane for a season than £100 million. Not least because our record of exchanging great big swathes of cash for footballers has been pretty patchy (the mind cannot help but flit back to the Bale money, and Soldado, Chiriches, Paulinho et al); but also because even if we did spend wisely, we would never bring in someone of his quality. There’s a train of thought that if he gets us into the Champions League (which apparently extends to a Top Five this season) then he immediately nets us £50m or whatever, but even brushing aside that argument, I’m still firmly rooted in the ‘Keep The Blighter’ camp.

I’m quite content with the thought of 25 or so of his goals, a dozen or so assists and a cheery wave goodbye next summer. In fact, given that we didn’t spend anything to acquire him there’s even a spot of the from-dust-he-came-to-dust-he-shall-return about losing him on a free. Obviously not ideal, but if that were to transpire I’d lap it up happily enough. And who knows, if Ange-ball really takes off he might hang around and start scouting out the retirement homes of N17.

Bayern have been doing their pantomime villain stuff pretty well, going about their business in dastardly and, frankly, wildly ill-advised fashion. Most peculiar, actually. For a start their Brains Trust seems to have spent several weeks missing the quite straightforward point that they won’t get their man unless they pay the required fee. Seems a pretty obvious one, that.

On top of which, at least one of their number ought really to have done a bit of basic homework on Daniel Levy and his negotiating style, but again, they’ve sailed through that one with seemingly blissful ignorance, presumably adopting an approach that works domestically, of simply demanding and expecting then to receive. To give Levy another little doff of the cap, that he allegedly responded to their arbitrary deadline last week by first ignoring it and then jetting off on holiday is, if true (and it’s debatable) pretty ripping stuff.

As for Kane himself, he’s obviously convinced it’s the move of choice, but it seems a rummy old one to me. I suppose if the chap absolutely desperately wants a medal, then there are fewer surer bets than a Bundesliga at Bayern; but when the curtain comes down on him I doubt anyone will remember him for that rather than his goalscoring records with club and country (in the same way as Alan Shearer is generally thought of as a record goalscorer rather than Premier League winner with Blackburn). But to each their own. These young people will follow their own peculiar whims.

And that pretty much brings us up to speed. Admittedly it’s all a state of flux, and it seems there will be quite a few more bodies shoved out of one door while one or two are dragged in another, but one gets the gist – and by the time our paths next cross, the new season will be upon us!