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Newcastle 1-2 Spurs: Five Lilywhite Observations

1. A Result to Remember Come May ‘19

The pedant may mutter that it was a mite reckless to use up an entire season’s worth of good fortune in the opening game; and the purist may well grumble that this fare will have few at the top table quivering in their boots; but given the circumstances this win was pretty valuable stuff, two bonus points for May ‘19.

With United already having won, City likely to set off like a train and Liverpool fans rather unusually suggesting that this might actually be their year, the last thing we needed was to fall off the pace with a stodgy result in our opener.

Moreover, half of our heroes arrived at the ground still wearing flip-flops and smeared in Factor 30, their post-World Cup jollies having been rather rudely interrupted by the day-job. For before you could say “How terrific that nine of our players feature in the World Cup Semi-Finals!” the realisation dawned that those same nine would be in no fit state for a full 90 minutes huff and puff come mid-August.

And on this front the doom-mongers had a point. Aside from some sporadic passages of possession, there was little to suggest that our lot were anything more than half-cooked. Blameless enough, given the circumstances, but most assuredly not the stuff of which dreams are made. In possession we were pretty slack, misplacing passes rather casually, and for various nerve-shredding periods when not in possession we were teetering on the edge of last-ditch defending. It all looked decidedly wobbly as the clock ticked down – making this every bit more a win to cherish.

(A word of consolation towards our vanquished hosts –which I’m sure will mean the world to them – for having rattled the woodwork twice, missed some eminently presentable one-on-ones and conceded a goal by a matter of literally millimetres, they are presumably wondering what more they needed to do to earn a point. Conversely, we did not so much flirt with Lady Luck as whisk her away for a no-expenses spared weekend of her life in some exotic location.)

2. Vertonghen Gets The AANP Nod

The fellows who know these things awarded the Man of the Match brick to Dele Alli, and the eagle-eyed will follow the logic of that one, young Dele having delivered the coup de grâce, channelled his inner Platt/Scholes/Lampard for various bursts from deep and also embellished proceedings with a quite marvellous passive nutmeg of Yedlin. So far, so Man of the Match.

That said, however, the AANP vote went to Jan Vertonghen. Much of the game was played on the back foot, and Vertonghen needed his wits about him a few times to intercept passes of the more cunning variety, as well as doing a spot of good, honest out-muscling.

On top of which, he poached the opening goal, with an opportunism that seemed to fly completely under the radar of the bods paid to commentate on such matters.

The perplexing status of Toby (on the payroll yet regarded with that same disgust one normally reserves for those who grab axe and go on rampage) and the occasional youthful indiscretion of Sanchez (guilty of daydreaming while the Newcastle egg wandered in behind to score) means that Vertonghen is very much the robust sort of block upon which a heck of a lot ought to be built.

3. The Rest of the Post-World Cup Mob: Trippier, Lloris, Kane, Dembele

The AANP eye was keenly trained upon those of World Cup Semi-Final ilk. As noted, Dele pottered around usefully and Vertonghen was obliged to tick boxes left, right and centre.

Our glorious leader, recognising that Kieran Trippier has taken his rightful spot alongside Mbappe, Modric et al as one of the stars of the global game, evidently felt that St James’ Park is beneath Kieran Trippier. And quite rightly so. It meant that the marvellous young fish was spared the indignity of Newcastle away.

Monsieur Lloris, our resident World Cup-winning captain, was mercifully spared the torture of having to handle too many back-passes. He stuck gamely to the essentials of the thing – catching and punching like a man who emerged from the womb in such fashion – and his dive at the feet of Kenedy in the second half may well have earned us two points, so a great big “Très bien” against his name.

As for our resident World Cup Golden Boot-winner, this was one of those outings pretty heavy on perspiration but with little to blow up anyone’s skirt. For a chap who’s a proven dab-hand at goalscoring he was forced to spend a lot of his working day ploughing that furrow that spans around ten yards either side of the halfway line. A dashed good job he did of it too, shielding the ball and laying things off as we all know he can do. Nearer the goal, however, his mechanics were not quite right, the rather worrying truth being that he looked like a man in need of a rest. Little chance he’ll get one mind, until, perhaps, Summer 2019.

And finally, a few adoring words for Mousa Dembele. By all accounts the Dembele limbs have handed in their notice, and the chap is not much longer for this sceptre isle – but cometh the nervous final fifteen minutes, cometh one heck of a cameo.

A common concern from AANP Towers during the Pochettino Years has been our lack of an experience head amongst the frivolous youths, to help see out games. Yesterday, Dembele filled that void with aplomb, fulfilling very duty laid out in the Job Spec. Strength to hold off all-comers, technique to protect the ball like a newborn – nothing we haven’t seen before of course, but massively effective, and alongside the yellow-carded Dier and earnest-but-average Sissoko he played a pretty prominent role in steering the good ship Hotspur to port.

4. Sissoko and Aurier – Plus ça Change

Much has been made of the fact that the status quo has been maintained when it comes to playing personnel, and accordingly, with a rather damning inevitability, on the opening day of the season we were treated to the sight of Messieurs Sissoko and Aurier weaving their own unique brand of wizardry on the right flank.

Sissoko is certainly an earnest chappie, and rather brings to mind the old cricketing mantra that nobody drops a catch on purpose. Time after time his forward passes seemed perfectly well-intentioned but just didn’t quite hit their mark.

To his credit, his sideways and backwards stuff admirably evaded danger, and on one or two occasions he also used his brute force to good effect, in winning possession. A thought occasionally springs to the AANP mind that the blighter might be better employed as a centre-back, but that’s more one for idle dinner-party conversation. Sissoko is here to stay, since, as the official party line so correctly indicates, there is nobody available who might improve our starting eleven…

Meanwhile there was something strangely comforting in seeing Aurier ceding possession and letting onrushing attackers glide past him unnoticed. That old feeling of familiarity returned, like a beloved friend not encountered for some time.

And then, to give the blighter his undoubted due, he delivered the cross of the season to date, an absolute peach, the like of which mini-Auriers will whisper of in hushed and wide-eyed tones for generations to come. It would have been rude of Dele to miss.

5. Frustrations of Lucas & Son

I don’t mind admitting that the AANP pulse quickened pleasingly at the sight of Lucas’ name on the teamsheet, and when the chap took an early opportunity to tear at the Newcastle defence I positively squawked my approval.

That, alas, was about as good as it got in Moura Towers, because the chap did little more than flit around the periphery thereafter. I suppose his crack legal team will have a pretty lengthy defence prepared for him along the lines of the fact that if he is not given the ball he can hardly be expected to race around with the dashed thing, and one would see their point. Nevertheless, I am inclined to politely clear the throat and mention that he might have done a little more in the line of scavenging himself.

One suspects that at some point he will deliver an absolutely blistering performance, running rings around just about everyone in the vicinity, scoring two and making a few more – but today was not that day.

And finally, young Sonny. Given the much-vaunted lack of preparation of Dele and Kane, and the fact that Son himself imminently has to do the honourable thing for his country, I was jolly taken aback to see the chap withheld from proceedings both at the outset and later on. Once introduced he tore around as if his coiled spring had just been released, so it was a shame we had to wait so long, and odd that we did not utilise him while we could.

Still, those called upon just about did what was necessary, and given how easy it would have been for all concerned to have made excuses if we did not stagger over the line this is a win to be lauded.

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

Spurs 1-2 Juventus: Five Tottenham Observations

1. That Sickening Feeling

It was with a moody, morose, hangdog expression that I picked at the morning repast, I don’t mind admitting. One sometimes reads the phrase, “Sick to the pit of his stomach”, in murder mysteries and horror yarns and the like, and I never quite knew what the chap was getting at, although it sounded something one definitely wanted to swerve.
But now I know. Sick to the pit of my stomach. It pretty much hits nail squarely on head, when it comes to capturing the mood at AANP Towers ever since that blasted final whistle. The feeling of not wanting to get out of bed, even when you’re not actually in bed.

Or, more specifically, that feeling of having by and large, all things considered, outplayed a team over two legs, save for ten minutes in the first joust and five minutes in the second – and still ending up trudging home empty-handed and out of the competition for another year, after months of labour which actually begin at the start of last season when just qualifying for the bally thing. There’s something World Cup-esque about it all.

There were no injustices about which to complain (okay, the stamp on Son, the odd tenuous handball appeal – but if anything Lady Luck leant towards lilywhite), and no real complaints about the outcome. And yet the manner of the dashed thing is bitterly difficult to take. A lesson for us all, what?

2. Be More Clinical

And on the subject of lessons, they flew at us by the absolute bucketload yesterday. Most obviously I suppose was the need to make all the hay available when the sun is out and the conditions ship shape.

In the first half in particular we did a pretty topping job of opening up the Juve defence, and creating a decent fistful of presentable opportunities, but only scored one. The key protagonists, if not quite allowed the freedom of a fortnight back, were still looking pretty hot. Dembele was gliding, Eriksen was picking his men, Son was a little blur of whirring legs. But just the one goal. At half-time that seemed a pretty satisfactory night’s work, and there were back slaps all round; but how young and foolish we were back in those halcyon days of half-time.
In the second half it was more a case of well-set shots flying just wide of the mark. At school this would have earned that slightly patronising praise for effort, but yesterday it didn’t really tackle the meat of the problem, namely ticks in the Goals Scored column.

By contrast, Juve created two clear chances, tucked both away and that was enough. The lesson is not just obvious, it stands directly in front of you and raps you over the head with a blunt instrument.

Our heroes can certainly be proud of the fact that they twice took the game to that lot, outplayed them for large periods and created a hatful of chances. The next step, then, is to score goals at the slightest hint of an invitation, and in every period of dominance, because this stage of the Champions League is evidently pretty unforgiving, and points are not awarded for artistic finesse.

The Kane chance when he rounded the keeper; the Son effort dragged wide just before his goal; the Son header straight at the ‘keeper; Lamela’s slight delay in chasing the Kane header which hit the post – whereas in the Premier League, even against the top teams, another opportunity will likely toddle along (and if not, within seven days there is an opportunity to right all wrongs and forget about past mistakes), in the last 16 of the CL there is evidently a limit to the number of bites at the cherry over the course of 180 minutes, and if you miss your moment then you are simply plucked by the shoulders and tossed unceremoniously to the back of the queue.

3. Various Other Lessons Learned

Aside from simply sticking the thing in the blasted net from time to time, there was plenty else to learn from the way Juve got the job done, so I trust that our glorious leader and indeed those on the pitch took the time to whip out their notepads and scribble away like nobody’s business.

I suppose a lot of it could be filed under the loose heading of “General Savviness and Nous”. Things like tactical fouls, changing shape (and reacting to shape-changes), delaying play, and general game management. Some would probably be labelled fairly dark arts, but others are considerably brighter, and simply reflect a little exercising of the grey matter. Oddly enough it seems there’s more to playing football than simply playing football, which really makes one stop and think.

On a side note, amongst numerous other things I give credit to the Juve top dog for staggering his double substitution at the hour mark. Where most would simply have bunged both subs onto the pitch in one dollop, signalling a clear change of tack, the Allegri chap made his changes a minute apart.

Nothing too sinister in that, one might think, but as one of the TV bods pointed out, the effect was to give our lot more food for thought than their little minds could handle. Barely had they computed Sub No. 1 and the accompanying change in approach, than Sub No. 2 was galloping into view, and more time was spent by those in lilywhite scratching their heads and trying to figure out what the dickens was happening. Within five minutes, while we were still adjusting our dials, Juve had scored and it was all too late.

4. A Team In The Manager’s Image (For Better And Worse)

An Arsenal-supporting chum, of all things, noted to me that possibly the only flaw in the management style of Senor Pochettino is a slightly rudimentary approach to the art of substitutions, and I suppose I am inclined to agree there, because for all his qualities the old bean rarely turns a game on its head with his mid-match tinkering.

By and large we tend to muddle through anyway, but on occasions like yesterday some inspiration from Stage Right would certainly not have gone amiss. However, I suppose that, like the troupe out on the pitch, our glorious leader himself is also rather green behind the ears in these matters.

The whole team is very much in the manager’s image, which by and large makes for pretty topping stuff – the whole cast singing from the same hymnsheet as it were – but it also means that they share his few flaws, and the inexperience from top to bottom cost us yesterday.

5. Progress and Next Steps

It is often said that while you can take AANP out of the analysis I’ll be dashed if you can take the analyst out of AANP, and as such we probably ought to consider next steps.

Beating Bournemouth seems like a sensible starting point. Ordinarily this would go without saying, but given the soul-destroying nature of last night, Sunday’s game shoulders an extra wedge or two of significance. Get back on the wagon and despatch that lot, and our season remains on track. Feel sorry for ourselves and roll around morosely, and we might start dropping points, and before you know it the whole thing is falling apart and locals are running for the hills.

But on a cheerier note, there is pretty visible progress from one season to the next. A couple of years ago we stumbled and crashed through a fairly ghastly Europa experience.
Last season we were gifted a pretty cheery-looking CL group, and made a most awful mess of things, then did the same in the Europa.

This season we were pretty solid third favourites in a group of four, but topped the thing, beating the current champions, then rather cruelly were rewarded with a knockout against the other finalist, and made a respectable fist of things.

As trajectories go, the Pochettino Vintage is up there with some of the great parabolas of our time, and you cannot get much higher praise than that.

Palace 0-1 Spurs: Five THFC Observations

1. Lackadaisical From Top To Bottom

The quickest route from A to B, so the boffins used to instruct me, is in a straight line, which seems a reasonable enough way of approaching that particular conundrum; but if you are a member of the good ship Hotspur it pretty much is a condition of employment these days that anything resembling a straight line gets tossed out of the window, and the most convoluted and complicated way of doing things is instead selected. Be it Juve or Liverpool, or Newport or Rochdale, our lot have recently been quite taken by the idea of drawing out matters and increasing the tension minute by minute.

So, rather than scoring a couple of goals in the first ten minutes, as was briefly threatened, nerves were frayed, fingernails gnawed to bone and curses flung around like confetti, until the 89th minute for goodness sake.

Despite being utterly dominant from first bell to last, we managed also to be incredibly slack and error-strewn throughout. And whereas this is normally the cue to take a deep breath and launch into a tirade against Sissoko, today the culprits were the much-feted A-listers in our ranks, which makes the mind boggle a bit.

Eriksen and Dembele, upon whom one would normally bet one’s right arm to keep possession ticking over, kept gifting the ball to Palace as if they’d been practising it all week. Harry Kane, upon whom would happily wager the life of a less-cherished cousin to stick away a couple of six-yard chances, made rather a pig’s ear of his opportunities in the opening 88 minutes.

Just about everyone else in lilywhite was similarly careless (young Sanchez can maybe be exonerated). It was almost as if the collective attitude was a carefree shrug, and the general sentiment that “Accuracy doesn’t really matter, Kane will presumably pop up at the death and we’ll win anyway, what?”

2. Aurier Finding New Ways To Be A Liability

As mentioned, Sanchez got his lines right throughout, which is no mean feat when up against a robust soul like Benteke, and alongside him, while his distribution certainly veered towards the errant, Dier nailed the bread-and-butter of keeping Palace forwards at bay.

Come to think of it, Ben Davies also mixed rough with smooth in a passable sort of way. The chap’s crossing tends to have a success rate that lurks in 50-50 territory, but as the game wore and the second half became one-way traffic he at least had the good sense to set up camp well inside the Palace half and provide a left-flank option.

And on that note, of picking a respectable position and giving the opposition something about which to brood, one should probably give Serge Aurier his due; he was always available. Here at AANP Towers we also noticed Aurier execute an impeccably-timed sliding tackle to spare our blushes, which beforehand I would have ranked as about as likely as a flying dinosaur landing on the pitch, so it just goes to show.

But whereas Aurier is normally an absolute liability in defence, he picked today to demonstrate that when it comes to fouling things up in the most ghastly and imbecilic manner, he is as capable of demonstrating these abilities in attack. Taking multiple foul-throws is really the sort of rot for which a professional footballer ought to have a finger lopped off, as well as sacrificing his entire weekly packet. Just to hammer home the farcical nature of Life as Serge Aurier, the blighter then managed to miss an open goal from around three yards by treading on the ball or some such nonsense.

3. Dele Alli: Dives and Penalties

There was an unsightly moment midway through the second half when young Dele flung himself to ground over the onrushing goalkeeper, with not an opposition limb in sight.

I do not have much problem with he or anyone else rediscovering the joys of gravity if – and it’s rather a crucial if – an opponent has bludgeoned, belted or even gently brushed against him. After all, referees will not award a free-kick if a chap stays upright; and if contact is made with man rather than ball, then a jury has every right to convict.

As it happened, Dele might have had a penalty not long beforehand, when a Palace defender (van Aanholt?) tried to dispossess him with a fairly wild swing of his peg. But the dive over the goalkeeper was an attempt to cheat, and while he is unlikely to be shoved in a dungeon and have the key lobbed into a nearby moat, the young buck will hardly be able to complain if he is politely told to biff off and amuse himself in other ways for three games.

Aside from the charge sheet against Dele himself, it is probably worth pointing out that we had an absolutely nailed on penalty (the goalkeeper against Davies) turned down in the opening moments, for no discernible reason other than that goalkeepers are sometimes granted licence to clatter folk. Kane might also have had a penalty, on a technicality, but life sometimes gives us these crosses to bear.

4. Team Selection

While most of the game was spent huffing, puffing and misplacing, the choice of personnel at the outset did make me arch a quizzical eyebrow or two.

The absence of Vertonghen was fair enough – a man is allowed to be injured every now and then – but while the same can officially be said of Alderweireld, it seems that the latter’s days in lilywhite might be numbered, which is a dashed shame.

Now I don’t really know the ins and outs of these contract negotiations, and while I would love to imagine that it is simply two men sitting opposite each other and shouting numbers back and forth, I suspect the truth is a little more complex; but could we not just find a way to give the chap the dosh he wants, through bonuses or hidden treasure or whatever it is? Heck, and do the same for the rest of them, if it means parity of payment. Seems a tad simpler than trying to identify another world-class centre-back at a bargain price, but then I’ve always been pretty nifty at solving all of life’s problems from this particular armchair.

Getting back to the teamsheet, I had actually swallowed a gulp or two when I saw the back-four announced, neither Dier nor Aurier being exactly the most watertight in the business, but I need not really have worried on that front, as Palace struggled to get over the halfway line.

The demotion of Son made sense, as the chap has slightly gone off the boil in recent weeks, following his all-conquering winter spell, and Lamela has looked sharp. Given that, one wonders how long before Dele serves some time on the bench.

I had also hoped that Lucas Moura would produce a little more than he did when eventually introduced, but the chap’s engine barely started. Early days though.

5. A Triumph For Football

In truth, the whole affair was fairly forgettable, but having spent the entire game trying only to defend, it struck me as good for football, and mankind as a whole, that the ultra-defensive approach adopted by Palace was rewarded with concession of a last-minute goal. The moral of the story was that being defensive doesn’t pay, and I can’t think of a more noble message to send to the children.

Juve 2-2 Spurs: Six THFC Observations

1. That Calamitous Start

As calamitous starts go, this one was the poster-boy of a generation. It felt like just off-screen there must have been dodgy fitting collapsing and pipes springing leaks, because on the pitch every conceivable error in the book was being dredged up and paraded to the paying public in the most ghastly manner.

A doff of the cap to Juve, mind, for that inventive free-kick sorcery, straight out of the France ’98 Argentina vs England Manual. Beneath his simmering rage, I wondered if our glorious leader appreciated the irony.

And while on the subject, a further admiring tilt of the old bean to Higuain for the over-the-shoulder volley.

But from our lot it was slapstick of the highest order, an impeccably-observed if curiously-timed homage to the opening five minutes of the Naked Gun sequel. Entertaining fare, I suppose, but one did rather get the urge to murmur, “Not really the time, chaps, nor the place, come to think of it, what?”

In truth, we have some history in the department of Beginning The Biggest Game of Our Lives in Utterly Kamikaze Manner – see the Young Boys qualifying jaunt a few years back, under ‘Arry, which was redeemed after an appalling first half; or indeed the opening ten against Real Madrid the same season, which was most decidedly not redeemed.

Most irritating to AANP was the fact that we were 2-0 down without having been outplayed in any real sense. If Juve had torn us apart one would have been pretty morose about life, but one would have accepted a 2-0 deficit. But simply to hand them a two-goal lead, before anybody had broken sweat, struck me as simply complicating life for the hell of it. These young people, eh?

2. Eriksen Cracks It On The Big Stage

But at the nine-minute mark, the change in mentality from our heroes was the sort of stirring stuff that awestruck children learn about in classrooms. Utterly unfazed, unpanicked and with a steely determination, and confidence in their abilities that one more typically associates with swashbuckling heroes in adventure yarns, our lot simply knuckled down and went about righting wrongs like nobody’s business.

And chief amongst wrong-righters was Christian Eriksen. I feel like I now need to spend a good day and half in a confessional when I think back to the days, a year or three back, when on these very pages I penned odes of mild protestation against the chap for his seeming inability to step up on the biggest stage.

“The young sport simply isn’t hot enough when things get shaky” was pretty much the gist of it, circa 2015, “Dash it, he needs to take a game by the scruff of its neck and show the bally thing who’s boss.”

Well, loathe though I am to take credit for these things, Young Master Eriksen has clearly been poring over his AANP annals, because the chap set about unpicking the Meanest Defence Ever Seen like a master locksmith last night. Clever diagonals, whipped crosses, long-range shots, deft feet, off-the-ball scurrying and rasping long-range shots – Eriksen had the complete package last night, and no praise is too high for the rascal.

3. Dembele Cracks It On The Big Stage. Again.

If Eriksen were creator-in-chief, Dembele was some sort of similarly-ranked chappie keeping the engine well-oiled throughout – which may not sound like high praise, and I suppose isn’t really, so I should add that his performance, for the fourth crunch game in a row, was world class.

The Juve midfield, who my spies tell me are no assortment of mugs and dunderheads themselves, could not get near him, and in that respect have some stories to swap when they next get together with the Man Utd, Liverpool and Arsenal midfields, for an evening of bourbon and blackjack.

It has long been a habit of AANP to chew the fat with my old man AANP Senior, and opine rather wistfully that a man of Dembele’s talent could be a terrific asset to the whole show if he were just nudged a further fifteen yards up the pitch and started assisting and scoring. Making more of an impact, don’t you know?

Tommyrot, as it transpires. The chap pretty much manages the rotation of the earth on its axis from his position in and around the centre-circle, creating a base upon which Eriksen and chums can crack on with things in the final third.

4. Hustle

The Eriksen-Dembele double-act stole the show, but the supporting cast to a man (well, near enough, but more on that anon) backed them up with the sort of lung-busting performances that sweep the board in awards season.
It was very much a night for the troupe as a whole to demonstrate their boundless energy. This was rarely better exemplified than in the general pandemonium spread by our heroes in the home midfield and defence, in the build-up to our first goal.

In the minute or so preceding it I’m fairly sure Lamela and Dier flew in for a thumping challenge on each other, such was the feistiness emanating from every lilywhite pore; and for the goal itself, Eriksen pretty much slung a Juve player to the floor before feeding Dele, for Kane’s goal.

If Juve thought that the two-goal lead in eight minutes was the precursor to a night of gentle revelry and japes they were pretty wildly off the mark.

5. Aurier: A Liability

That said, the Achilles’ Heel in the whole set-up was, as ever, Serge Aurier. Just the sight of the name on the teamsheet inspires nothing short of unsullied dread in the AANP bosom, and so it transpired, with a typically block-headed lunge for the penalty, and an inevitable second-half caution, which Juve ought really to have exploited.

One gets the impression that Pochettino subjects a bag of fruit to pretty microscopic analysis before purchasing it, so he presumably has some pretty weighty dossiers on Monsieur Aurier, but egads the chap looks undercooked at present.

To the list of Real Madrid and West Ham can now be added the name of Juve, for beneficiaries of his Fly-In-First, Question-The-Sense-Of-The-Bally-Thing-Later philosophy.

6. Vertonghen, Underrated Hero

Naturally enough the limelight is hogged by the creative chappies up at the pointy end of affairs, and few would begrudge them this. Further back however, on a weekly basis ever since Toby hobbled off stage left with a grimace and a below-par hamstring, Jan Vertonghen has strode around the place like a man possessed.

Both in his reading and anticipation of what fate might befall, and in his speed to deal with any immediate crisis that befalls the back-line, the chap is pretty faultless. It can appear pretty fraught work, because for all the dominance we have exerted in recent games, the opposition have had plenty of attacking talent, and the occasional chance has inevitably loomed.

Vertonghen has taken on the mantle of defensive leader pretty emphatic fashion, and yesterday he once again packed his A-Game and displayed it throughout.

6. Some Musings on The Rather Odd Approach From Juve

This being a strictly lilywhite corner of the interweb I tend never to care a hang for the opposition tactics, grumbles, hopes and dreams. I have to admit however, in this instance I did put myself in the stylish loafers of a Juve fan for a few choice moments, and found the whole spectacle rather rummy.

The questions that leapt to mind, reading from North to South, were as follows:

1. What the dickens were they playing at?

2. Specifically, was the grand plan really just to set up camp on the edge of their own area, unfurl a sleeping bag or two, clink together their flasks of cocoa and simply bed in for 80 minutes and wait for the second leg?

3. Do their fans sit through that sort of bilge on a weekly basis? Do they enjoy it? Because it looked like the most frightful old muck to me.

4. Is their record of not having conceded a home goal since approximately the 1970s a result of channelling the spirit of Sven’s England in the ‘00s, and defending for their lives from minute one? (I confess, that one is more of a rhetorical shot – the answer seems a pretty firm negative, best delivered with an accompanying look of disdain.)

I suppose the point I’m drilling at, in an admittedly roundabout way, is whether Defensive Mode In Extremis was their strategy from the outset, or whether, having stumbled gaily upon a two-nil lead after eight minutes they simply looked around at each other, shrugged shoulders collectively and thought that there were worse ways to whittle away 80 minutes on this mortal coil than adopting a 4-6-0 and playing out time?

So, as mentioned, I’m not in the habit of dipping my nose into the affairs of other teams – but if you’re going to break a habit of a lifetime, might as well do it with gusto. More to the point, while I back our heroes to beat anyone at Wembley, we can probably expect a far shinier, sleeker Juve to knock on our doors in three weeks time. Robert Patrick’s T-1000, to yesterday’s ageing T-800 Schwarzengger. The first leg could hardly have ended better, especially considering how calamitously it began, but the tie is far from over.

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

Spurs 1-0 Arsenal: Four THFC Observations

1. Second Half Performances

I think any jury would agree that the first half was a fairly cagey affair. Not a million miles away from a game of chess I suppose, with one side nudging a pawn forward a step or two, and the other side dangling an experimental bishop to survey the battlefield. Their lot were denied a chance by a pretty rotten call from the linesman; our heroes fashioned one that was a mite too high for the forehead of Kane; and at half-time the thing could hardly have been described as a pyrotechnic spectacular.

When the cast reassembled for the second forty-five however, a completely different kettle of fish was produced. En masse, our heroes went up a couple of gears, took the lead and but for some pretty wayward work in the Finishing-Touch department would have delivered an absolute thrashing.

I wonder if you happen to notice a trend in recent weeks? Against Man Utd, our heroes went at it hammer and tongs in the second half, leaving United to simply wilt away and give up the thing completely at around the hour mark. Then against Liverpool last week, following a fairly mediocre stab at the first 45, we overwhelmed them in the second half, restoring parity and looking odds on to wrap up matters until that slightly madcap final five minutes. And then yesterday, another run-of-the-mill first half was followed in the second by the most one-sided 1-0 hammering you will see.

The gist of the thing is that Pochettino’s current vintage are capable of producing the dickens of a second half performance when necessary. The energy levels shoot off the scale, and three of the best in the country have been utterly unable to live with us.

One might well want to pause on the general back-slapping and cork-popping to ask some pretty salient questions, such as why it takes us 45 minutes to reach these levels (to which the answer might be that the opposition themselves are pretty stoked in the first halves of these tete-a-tetes, but run out of steam while our lot go into overdrive in the second halves); and why we aren’t evidencing our dominance with a whole hatful of goals each time.

But on the back of seven points from these three crunch games, through the use of pretty much identical personnel, it would be miserly in the extreme to wag admonitory fingers and complain about one thing and another.

2. Off-The-Ball Press

Having the privilege of observing yesterday’s narrative unfold in the presence of an Arsenal-supporting chum, I noted that at several points he lamented the manner in which his team surrendered possession.

Well he might have complained, but one need not scratch too far beneath the surface to identify a critical cog in the whole Cause-and-Effect narrative on this point. For as befell United and Liverpool in recent weeks, this was not a case of Arsenal randomly falling apart, but of Tottenham hounding them down until they broke.

That horrible lot kept ceding possession primarily because they were subjected to levels of harassment, press and general bother that in other walks of life would border on the uncouth, if not the downright illegal.

Our mob, from front to back, are fast mastering the art of winning back possession high up the pitch, with all the relentless tenacity of a team of rabid dogs, and then haring off into attack once more. It is jolly impressive stuff, and neatly complements the variety and gusto with which we attack when actually in possession.

3. Missed Chances

For all the off-ball press and on-ball creativity, one could not help after a while glance at what was unfolding on the pitch, and then at the scoreboard, and then back to the pitch, with rather a furrowed brow. Dominate a team thusly and we should dashed well have a hatful of goals to show for it. Instead, we squandered chances with all the carefree abandon of a couple of young lambs gambolling in a field without a care in the world.

In a sense it did not seem to matter, for in a second-half that was simply a procession of Tottenham near-things, another gilt-edged opportunity was always just around the corner and the players on both sides knew it. But in another sense, the suspicion started to nag that our heroes were missing the point of the whole spectacle if they kept bypassing one chance, shrugging their shoulders and eagerly bobbing up and down in anticipation of the next one. The logic, I began to suspect, was flawed. There was a simpler way to go about this.

Kane (twice), Lamela (twice), Dele, Son and Trippier all made rather a pickle of eminently presentable opportunities, on top of which Eriksen’s free-kick would have hit the top corner but for a timely paw from Cech.

And as has been well documented, we were jolly well nearly made to pay, which would have made the whole game seem like an act of the basest treachery. The moral of the story seems to be to score and score again, and then once more for luck, when the opportunities arise; but these young folk do like to do things their own way.

4. Dembele, Yet Again

After a collective effort like that, and particularly having just penned reams and reams about the team’s off-the-ball work en masse, it does seem rather a disservice to the majority to single out one or two for particular approval. I imagine the legal bods representing Messrs Kane and Eriksen, for example, might raise an eyebrow and have the headed notepaper at the ready on hearing that praise is being lavished elsewhere. Nevertheless, Mousa Dembele continues to deliver absolute tour de force performances.

If the common denominators across these three distinguished results has been our second half performances, the man at the hub of those second halves has been Dembele.

I suppose in this age of shiny statistics the casual passer-by might poke his head in and wonder what the fuss is about, because the old sport rarely scores or sets up goals. But by golly he makes the world a brighter place, and manages to make the hurly-burly of crunch Top Six games look about as serene and effortless a breeze as simply floating down a river in a paddle-boat with a newspaper over one’s head.

You know the drill – power, control, and a unique ability to retain possession even when baying hordes pursue him at every turn. Injuries never seem far away, poor chap, but when he is in this sort of form he simply purrs, which rather makes me purr, and after a while all there is is Dembele gliding away from people and a heck of a lot of purring.

Whether he will be in any shape to dust himself down and go again on Tuesday in Turin is debatable, but his absence on that stage would be a shame, both aesthetically and in terms of the nuts and bolts of winning the game. We shall see.

Liverpool 2-2 Spurs: Six THFC Observations

As just about every living soul on the planet has immersed themselves in the rights and wrongs of the various decisions in those final ten minutes, I might incline the bean towards the various other goings-on.

1. Lloris Playing From The Back

Starting at the beginning, I think the shrewder observers amongst us would have been bang on the money in identifying that, in the first half, all was not well on the domestic front.

For a start, one imagines that unless Pochettino had been in a particularly eccentric mood, “Concede an early goal” would have been nowhere near the top of the to-do list, yet our lot couldn’t facilitate this fast enough, what with Sanchez spinning around like a dog incensed by its own tail, Dier slotting obliging passes to the opposition and Lloris prostrating himself about an hour too early as Salah approached.

So, two minutes in, and things were already squiffy. What then transpired was a farce not seen since the circus act away to Manchester City, as Monsieur Lloris went through the list of his less impressive attributes, picked the very worst one of the lot, and spent the rest of the half showcasing it.

The chap’s distribution is dreadful, with the ultimate destination of the ball often a complete lottery. Poor old Sanchez and Vertonghen had evidently been roped into this little charade against their will, and had their work cut out just keeping the dashed thing in play, as Lloris picked the worst possible time to indulge in his own warped little game of Fetch.

On top of which, even if his distribution were on a par with that of Pele himself, the whole ruse of zipping the ball to the centre-backs when pinned up against their own corner flags was about as ill thought-through as it gets. There was zero element of surprise, which meant that the nearest Liverpool player simply waddled up to the man, and immediately we were under pressure. The ball was desperately hacked to halfway, or less, and came straight back at us.

Honestly, my eyes bled just watching it, don’t you know. And we had got into exactly the same mess against City a few months back. Honestly, is this the grand plan for outfoxing Top Six opponents away from home? Literally backing ourselves into a corner? Heavens above.

2. First Half Possession

All that said, the first half struck me as a geographical game of two halves, if you follow me. What I’m getting at, is that inside our own half of the pitch, our heroes resembled the passengers on the Titanic after things turned sour. General panic and a distinct lack of clarity seemed about the sum of things, and Liverpool accordingly looked like scoring every time they breezed forward.

But once we passed the halfway line, I actually thought we looked rather nifty. Now I realise that this is the sort of statement that will have me pelted with rotten fruit and then trussed up in the nearest strait jacket and hurled into a small white room, as public opinion seems fairly firmly signed up to the manifesto that we were utter rot in the first 45.

But having seen us labour so excruciatingly in various games this season, when we have hopelessly passed the ball sideways and shown zero off-the-ball movement, I was pretty enthused by how we set about things when we got into the Liverpool half. Admittedly we fell short at the final hurdle, in that we created only the one real chance, for Son – and I admit some might point to that as evidence of a fairly crucial flaw in the plan. However, I nevertheless thought we pinged the ball around neatly, and on several occasions came within but one stretched Liverpool leg of being through on goal.

3. Dembele in Possession

Central to this was the surging of Dembele, from halfway. The chap simply glided straight through the middle, bypassing two or three foes at a time, and apparently was fouled for his troubles five times in the first half alone.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record about the blighter, it’s the same package he delivers with regularity – strength of an ox, grace of a ballerina. His defensive abilities have dipped to the level of simply hauling down whomever has the run on him, but when it comes to turning defence into attack, the chap is a marvel.

4. Dier Something of a Liability

Providing a neat symmetry to the quality of Dembele was the erratic offering from young Master Dier.

It’s not really black and white with this chap, because he has his qualities, and when he gets it right he looks quite the defensive giant. A well-timed Dier sliding challenge can put hair on a man’s chest, and if an opposing team politely enquires if anyone in lilywhite fancies a scrap, Dier will be one of the first to roll up his sleeves. I sometimes think the chap might feel more comfortable taking to the pitch with a giant club in his hands, or some similar bludgeoning instrument.

However, there is something about him that reminds one of a man running through quicksand, for blessed with a lightning quick turn of pace he is most definitely not. This particular crack tends to be papered over by planting him in midfield and closing one’s eyes tightly. Alas, there is no real escaping another fairly critical flaw in his DNA, which is that his ball distribution swings fairly wildly between passable-enough-old-sport and downright horrid.

The back-pass for Salah’s opener yesterday was the one that ended up in neon lights, but at various points the chap forgets to consult his compass and consequently pings the ball in whichever direction takes his fancy.

5. Sanchez

Perhaps it was the sight of Dier in front of him, struggling to align brain and feet, or maybe it was the constant threat of Lloris about to sell him out with another one of those calamitous short goal-kicks, but Sanchez looked like a man to whom shocked deer in headlights turn for modelling advice.

The poor egg has turned in some pretty robust showings in his half-season or so, but yesterday he looked utterly traumatised right from kick off.

Unable to cope with the movement of Liverpool, the trauma of it all fairly inevitably spread to his ball distribution, and we could all be pretty grateful that Jan Vertonghen alongside him had packed his A-game.

The second half withdrawal of Sanchez for Lamela had an obvious tactical glint to it, but nevertheless there was a whiff of euthanasia about the whole thing.

6. Cracking Second Half

Mercifully, things upped about a thousand notches in the second half, culminating in all manner of revelry in those moments before the final gong.

Liverpool ran out of energy pretty much as soon as the second half started, and our one-touch passing began to click like bally-oh. Dembele glided, Son and Dele did a roaring trade in neat first-time-flicks into space, and the full-backs looked at the patches of greenery ahead of them and thought “Wel,l why the devil not?”

I have read some column inches criticising Dele for his lack of input – or, I suppose, output – highlighting that his well of goals and assists is running dry. No arguing with the lies, damn lies and statistics I suppose, but aside from those numbers the chap appears to be rediscovering his joie de vivre, making the sort of runs from midfield that gets the masses chattering. One would hope that this will be the last we see of him hurling himself to terra firma as well.

A quick cap-doff to our glorious leader for making substitutions that pretty directly impacted the storyline, and to Kane for holding his nerve at the death.

As for the penalties, fouls, offsides and decisions – even those of fairly modest deductive capacity should be able to infer the side of the various fences on which I sit.

It was a rip-roaring spectacle, and although coronary failure is now a genuine risk at AANP Towers that our second half display giving some genuine cause for optimism. From two of these three crunch fixtures we now have a home win and away draw. Win at home to our dastardly neighbours and this will amount to a most satisfactory little jaunt.

Spurs 2-0 Man Utd: 5 THFC Observations

1. Perfect Performance, Tens All Round

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. And Mightily Impressive Off The Ball Too

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

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

3. Our Defensive High Line, And Coronary Issues

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. A Good Night To Be Kieran Trippier

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Newport 1-1 Spurs: Four THFC Observations

I suppose the non-Spurs-supporting mob who traverse this Fair Isle allowed themselves a chuckle or two at our expense yesterday. In fact, I can do more than suppose, I can report the point as one of fact. And the reason I can do the aforementioned is that just about every blasted one of them spent the game helpfully reminding me, via the medium of the humble telephone-based messaging system, of such critical points as the scoreline, the time elapsed, the league placement of our opposition and other such salient information.

One cannot really blame them. Society’s greatest spin doctors would struggle to paint yesterday’s debacle in a salutary light. No doubt about it, the brow was doused with a pretty liberal sprinkling of perspiration as the game entered its final breaths, and it seems a suitable penance to have to start up the engine again in a week or two, when all concerned in lilywhite would much rather put their feet up with a box set and a bourbon.

1. No Stomach For The Fight

Anyone sniffing around pre kick-off for some indication of what was to come would have perused the teamsheet and promptly mooched off elsewhere to continue sniffing. A couple of subtle swaps at the back, but at least three quarters of them would still have lined up in a Premiership game without even quivering an eyelid, let alone batting one.

However, Messrs Dier and Vertonghen in particular appeared to have breezed up in body only, their spirit having been left back in North London. Our hosts set about the binge with gusto, as would be expected, but instead of going toe-to-toe and slugging it out, Dier and Vertonghen looked utterly affronted that anyone should be brazen enough to try tackling them in a football match of all things.

It was a cycle that repeated throughout the first half. Newport tore away at the contest like a team of rabid dogs; Vertonghen and Dier looked aghast every time their pristine white shirts were sullied. If they had wanted to satirise the societal gap between the haves and have-nots they could not have done a better job of it if they had been practising for months.

2. The Midfield

Similarly, the teamsheet gave few causes for concern when the eye dribbled down to the midfield. In fact, the teamsheet made one pause, gasp and murmur a wide-eyed “What ho!” when they eye dribbled down to the midfield, for a combo of Sissoko, Dembele and Wanyama hinted that we were in the business of removing the neighbourhood’s rowdier elements from the local dancehall, with meaty force strongly encouraged.

What transpired was underwhelming. Those three pounded around like a trio of automatons, all legs and no brain. It was as if none of them were particularly aware of the purpose of the mission, beyond perhaps meeting a certain number of footsteps by the time the curtain came down.

Oddly enough, Sissoko was the most proactive of them, but in general it was not immediately obvious which goal our midfield were charged with attacking, which ought to have the warning bells clanging away like the dickens.

3. Llorente, Where Is Thy Sting?

The memory is a little hazy in my advanced years, but I fancy that when news broke of the last-minute snaffling of Llorente last summer – from under the noses of Chelsea, no less – I might have grabbed a passing stranger an performed a neat pirouette, such was my satisfaction. On this very corner of the internet I sang the chap’s praises, and breathed a couple of hearty sighs of relief that we now had an experienced and capable striker available to deputise for Kane on such occasions as Cup ties against fourth-tier opposition.

And to give Llorente his due, the lumbering giant has a touch that could bring an end to world wars and send hollering toddlers gently to their slumbers. One imagines that a ball could be fired at him from a cannon and he would deftly cushion it, and, if feeling particularly rosy, maybe even weight a glorious five-yarder slap-bang into the path of some onrushing chum.

That sort of stuff cannot necessarily be taught, and as such one would think that Llorente has a pretty critical talent when it comes to being one of the most talented chappies going.

Alas, the very act of tying his shoelaces seems to expel every last ounce of oxygen from the old bean’s lungs. He gives the impression that he would rather be tied to a chair and have some nefarious scoundrel in a mask bludgeon his fingers with a hammer – as happened in a moving picture flick I stumbled upon recently – than work his way up to a sprint. The act of running is simply more than Llorente’s body can handle.

A team featuring Sissoko might already reasonably be considered to be one man light. Having Llorente wandering around, looking longingly at the blurry leg movements of those around him doesn’t half exacerbate things.

4. Kane, And A Modicum of Dignity

While all around him looked either disgusted at having to be involved in matters so beneath them, completely uninterested in the game, or one of the various points in between, Harry Kane at least had the dignity to become increasingly frustrated with how the tale was panning out.

The young fish appeared to care, and while his involvement tended to be of the peripheral variety in the first half – picking up the ball with back to goal on halfway and being promptly swarmed upon – he looked just about ready to swing a right hook at anyone who taunted him.

He was also responsible for our one moment of note in the first half, hitting the post as a pointed reminder that he is pretty much the hottest thing in Europe at the moment.

Mercifully, the whole bunch of them as a collective upped their game in the second half, Son and Dele arrived to raise the standard notch or two and, so on so forth. Precious little positivity to be gleaned from that mess, but hopefully we can all move on and never speak of it again. It remains our likeliest trophy this season.

Man Utd 1-0 Spurs: Four Lilywhite Conclusions

1. Struggles Without Kane

Having spent the last 48 hours or so confidently assuring friend and foe alike that we are plenty more than a one-man team, and the loss of Kane would be swatted away with the care-free insouciance of an elephant dispatching a few errant flies on its muzzle, you can well imagine the awkwardness at AANP Towers as events unfolded on Saturday.
Naturally there was no shortage of huff, puff and elbow-grease by the bucketload, but having opted for a team without a recognised, bona fide striker, funnily enough we rather turned in the performance of a team without a recognised bona fide striker.

Son, Alli and, heaven help us, Sissoko, were each in their own way relatively willing to meander forward and cautiously poke their noses into the opposition area every now and then, but each seemed set on playing a supporting role, seemingly forgetting that Harry Kane was not amongst the troops.

After the scratchy opening 15 minutes or so in which we barely touched the ball, we had a fair amount of possession, without ever looking remotely threatening. Our lack of an imposing central striker was utterly, glaringly obvious. And curiously it was not a matter massively improved when Llorente waddled on either, the chap lacking the imposing Untameable Beast-like quality of our absent friend.

It all had the sombre gloom of a Greek tragedy, dealing a sharp slap to the AANP face into the bargain, for all those churlish, positive, pre-match suggestions that we would handle Kanelessness like billy-o. Against lesser teams I imagine either Son and/or Llorente will do the trick, but this time out the whole masterplan had that same nagging flaw about it that one feels when one trots off to the office and discovers en route that a machete is embedded in one’s back and blood is draining out like nobody’s business. It hinders things.

2. Opting Against The Forward Pass

No doubt operating without a designated forward was limiting in the way that operating complex machinery without a head on one’s shoulders can prove quite the obstacle, but I felt that matters were exacerbated by a curious snese of caution that seemed to envelop our heroes as they plied their business.

The two may well be interlinked of course, but time and again it seemed that when the ball was at the feet of Eriksen, and a world of possibilities opened up before him, promising health, wealth, happiness and allsorts, he rather moodily about turned and sucked the joy out of life by seeking a sideways or backwards pass.

This exercise in pessimism and gloom was all the more curious given the gay abandon with which he and chums had torn into Liverpool last week, and indeed puffed out their chests and gone biff-for-biff with Real at the Bernabeu. As mentioned, perhaps the acute awareness of the Kane-shaped hole up the top of the pitch wormed its way into their subconscious.

3. Sissoko and Dembele

To general acclaim so far this season I heroes have muddled through without either Dembele or Wanyama with admirable stiff upper lips and the positivity in the sense of adversity that one hears went down a storm amongst those Christians when they were thrown to the lions and left without a bally hope.

All well and good, but I feel that the narrative takes a fairly hefty swerve when the great and good start waxing lyrical about the alleged improvement in Moussa Sissoko this season. The fact that he is being picked each week does not in itself constitute improvement. To my admittedly heavily biased and untrained eye, it simply reflects the fact that the all the other cabs on the rank have been temporarily pulled from service or are elsewhere employed.

Anyway, the hour came, the man came, and the limbs entangled once more. The chap is simply not up to scratch, seemingly as uncertain about what will happen when he approaches the action as any of the rest of us, due to the disconnect between his brain and limbs that stretches the very boundaries of human biology. This week’s Sissoko Moment was the wild slash of a ball vertically into the air, when the goal gaped, in the first half.

And as if to emphasise all of the above, he was replaced by Mousa Dembele who, while not faultless, demonstrated a level of control and smooth technique on the ball that a whole team of Sissokos would not achieve if they were left at typewriters for an eternity.

4. Rare Mistakes at the Back

By and large, there is rarely much to say about our back-three, which in itself is quite the compliment. They rather diligently just put heads down and get on with things, snaffling attacks, sweeping up messes, crossing t’s and dotting I’s.

All of which renders the more galling the subtle combination of errors that brought about our downfall yesterday. Messrs Alderweireld, Vertonghen and, I thought in particular Dier, were making a fairly decent fist of things, but each put a foot slightly wrong in the blur of events that was the United goal, and before you could splutter “But that is literally just a straightforward punt down the centre of the pitch” the ball was in our net and things had gone abruptly south. Just goes to show.

Why this could not have happened on one of those days when we were already four goals to the good I don’t know (I suppose if you were being clever you could say it actually did happen on one of those days when we were already four goals to the good, just last weekend, against Liverpool, so there). However, happen it did, and losing to a goal as soft as that was a bit like seeing two rhinoceroses going toe-to-toe only to have the clash settled by a stubbed toe.

But as I like to think in these situations, I would rather win one and lose one then draw two, so to have three points and a couple of goals in the bag from two fixtures against Liverpool and Man United is passable.

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

Real Madrid 1-1 Spurs: Five Lilywhite Observations

1. The Eriksen-Modric Fantasy Clash

I don’t mind admitting that the heart skipped a lovestruck beat when I saw Messrs Modric and Eriksen line up in opposition in the centre of the Bernabeu. It was like one of those classic films in which an inspired casting director has called in a few favours and pulled a few strings, with the result that he has managed to obtain the services of two absolute giants of the silver screen, to peddle their muck alongside one another for the first time. Think Expendables 2 and you have the idea.

So there, in glorious technicolour, were Modric and Eriksen. Master and Apprentice if you will, of the control panel at N17. Creator Extraordinaire Past and C. E. Present. Even the dullest, most heartless observer would have salivated uncontrollably at the prospect.

Alas, what transpired was quite the mismatch. Modric, unsurprisingly, stuck to his part of the deal, and duly ran the show from first toot to last. All that we had known and loved on the hallowed turf of the Lane was blazing away again, from the man once voted Real’s Worst Ever Signing. The exquisite technique, vision and execution, all allied to an impressive degree of hither-and-thither scurrying. It was A-Game stuff, and our heroes had to be on their toes throughout to prevent the chap running riot (which, to their credit, they did with aplomb, but more on that later).

But alas, I said, and it’s worth repeating: alas. For Eriksen, who by any loose estimation has hit quite the heights already this season, was dreadfully off colour. The heir to the Moric mantle seemed to have attached left boot to right foot and vice versa, and possibly then tied the laces of both boots together for good measure. He barely struck a right note the whole evening. Dashed odd, and terrifically frustrating, because if ever we needed our String-Puller-In-Chief to earn the monthly envelope it was away to the European Champions.

He will have better days – in truth he can barely have worse – and his work-rate was as earnest as ever, but there could barely be fainter praise for the chap.

2. Harry Winks’ 60 Seconds Worth of Distance Run

Seasoned visitors to these 4 walls will know that the AANP cup overfloweth with good honest man-love for young Master Winks. That he is one of our own and lives the dream is certainly pleasing, and poetic and whatnot, but pleasing and poetic alone does not win football matches. But by heck what does win football matches is receiving the ball and instantly spinning the needle Northwards to see what is available, then ploughing forward via the best transport mode available, be it pass or dribble.

The chap is not faultless – his loss of possession on halfway resulted five seconds later in a one-on-one for one of the greatest goalscorers in history, not the sort of error of judgement one wants to make too readily.

But allowing for the fact that young Winks is mortal, and that to err will very much be an occasional part of his DNA, he held his own in the face of arguably the stiffest midfield test in world football today.

The assorted boxes ticked included “Body Strength to Protect the Thing”, “Defensive Awareness (Both Positioning and Tackling)” and, as mentioned above, a pleasingly anti-Jenas ability to prompt a forward move. Those doubting the young bean’s ability would be advised to soak up a replay of our goal, featuring Winks shrugging off a challenge and playing the short but effective forward pass which set the thing in motion down the right flank.

3. Aurier and Sissoko

A propos that right flank, quite the eventful evening for those on patrol. Aurier’s greatest hits in lilywhite now include an assist vs Real Madrid, a penalty conceded for a wild lunge, a red card for two wild lunges, and an absolute hatful of other wild lunges delivered at regular intervals, executed with groan-inducing wildness and as likely to succeed as the toss of a coin.

A rough diamond then, as a particularly kindly diplomat might put it. The cross for our goal was scrumptious, and after the initial 20-minute bedding-in period in which every member of our back-five had evidently been instructed to remain within spitting distance of our own penalty area upon pain of death, he gradually began to don his marauder’s hat and go marauding up the right with the best of them.

The link-up play with Sissoko certainly did have the occasional look of ‘Accident’ rather than ‘Design’, but effective is as effective does, and Aurier caused them problems.

That said, watching him perfect the needless art of the Wild Lunge did make me want to reach out and offer a consoling pat to the head of Kieran Trippier.

Elsewhere on the right, the broken clock that yesterday told the right time was Sissoko and his limb collection. The consensus is that the chap did a decent job, and he certainly contributed to the unlikely double-act with Aurier. However, I would hardly number myself amongst the converts. For every extravagant scorpion-kick control-on-the-run there was a wild swing and miss on the edge of his own area. It did the job, he played his part, so credit where due, but every passing day – and every errant pass – makes me yearn more for Dembele and Wanyama.

4. Lloris’ Disdain for Physics

To date this season Monsieur Lloris has been cultivating quite the eye-catching collection of monumental aberrations, but such big tent capers can be forgiven in an instant when one observes the frankly physics-defying stunts he pulls off in the name of the last line of defence.

As with the left-hand scoop vs Bournemouth at the weekend, his leggy block of Benzema’s header yesterday seemed to cause a rip in the very fabric of space-time. The thing just did not seem possible, and was worth toasting to the rafters every jot as much as a goal at t’other end.

The save from Ronaldo’s volley, while slightly more aligned to the laws of physics, was nevertheless similarly first-rate. The chap is a keeper, if you get my drift.

5. Pochettino’s Tactics

AANP has no bones about attributing the rightful name to a digging implement, and when our glorious leader erroneously gambled on Son at left wing-back vs Chelsea in the Cup last year, a bashing was duly administered which no doubt still makes the chap cower to this day.

Last night, the assorted absentees forced him into another tactical gamble, and a startling one it was too, with the teamsheet prompting around 18 different interpretations from seasoned onlookers of what shape and arrangement might transpire.

5-3-2 as it happened, in a pleasing throwback to AANP’s failed experiments on early 90s Championship Manager, but credit by the truckload to Pochettino for deciding upon it, and the lilywhite troupe for executing it.

Admittedly, the deep-defensive approach does induce palpitations by the bucketload amongst the observing throng, but by and large it worked. In the first half, after the early woodwork scare, Real struggled to get their paws into the meat of the thing, viz. our penalty area. Admittedly we in turn struggled to prevent the ball returning straight back at us, particularly at the start of the second half, but with Real looking vulnerable at the back, the “2” element of 5-3-2 proved a smart move, and we should have toddled off home with more than just the one goal.
Credit, on that cheery note, to Llorente, who, while no whippet, showed both strength and a delicate touch in his role as Robin to Kane’s Batman.

Other observations were that Son was surprisingly underused, and Danny Rose seems to have spent his entire rehabilitation period deprived of any grooming products, but in the absence of 4 of our first choice 11, a point away at the European Champions was a fantastic result. Qualification is all but guaranteed, and in the grand scheme of things, the development of this bunch continues apace. Marked progress from last year, the upward trajectory continues.

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