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Fiorentina 1-1 Spurs: Naughty Dele Alli & 5 Other Lilywhite Notes

1. Who’s a Naughty Boy?

Every man and his dog in the television studios greedily lapped up the opportunity to pontificate like there was no tomorrow over Dele Alli’s latest indiscretion, and in truth one can understand it. The seasoned lilywhite observers will no doubt be well aware of young Master Alli’s penchant for the naughty. The furtive elbow into the ribs here, the trailing leg there and a generally irresistible urge to start a push-and-shove with anyone in the vicinity at least once per game.

Those of us who have been brought up on a strict diet of powderpuff Tottenham midfielders who can spray a delightful pass but would rather run for the hills than go crunching into a 50-50 will frankly be delighted with the attitude of young Alli. The last thing anyone wants is for the chap to retreat into his shell and pootle along in the shadows of each game – and in all honesty the chances of that actually happening are just about nil. More than likely, we will probably have to resign ourselves to the fact that every now and then Alli will be yanked aside by an eagle-eyed ref and told in no uncertain terms to remove himself from proceedings. So be it, for as anyone who has ever stared up at a guillotine will know, there comes a time in life when you just have to take the rough with the smooth. (Whether I will be quite so sanguine when picking up the pieces of his red cards is another matter). On a related note – worth a wager, for those who are that way inclined, on the fellow getting himself sent off at the Euros, what with the continental referees and all that nonsense.

2. Confidence – A Preference to the Habitual Voyeur

I have not paid too much attention to the vagaries of Italian club football since the halcyon days of Gazza, Winter Signori et al, to the glorious soundtrack of “GOOOOOOLAAAAAZZZZOOOOO” back in the early ‘90s. As such I have absolutely no idea what sort of standard Fiorentina are these days, or the strength of their XI that toddled out. Either way, it was pretty striking that until the (dashed fortunate) equaliser our heroes looked relatively comfortable. In the first half in particular we looked every inch the home side, such was our level of possession, and confidence on the ball. Given that we started similarly against City on Sunday, it did make me wonder, when exactly was the last time we played an away match in the traditional style of an away team? The point I’m harping about is that it seems a further testament to the progress of our heroes, that irrespective of opposition, venue or general prevailing social norms, even as an away team they tend to yank hold of initiative, confidence positively coursing through the veins, and just strut about like they own the place.

3. Protection for the Back-Four & The Bentaleb Scenario

For all that first half dominance, there were nevertheless a couple of occasions when Fiorentina worked their way jolly close to our goal, even at nil-nil and nil-one. The usual Dier-shaped protection that hovers in front of (and alongside) the back-four was rather conspicuously absent, and neither Mason nor Carroll quite delivered the same meaty chunks of goodness. There is no parallel universe in existence in which the replacement of Carroll with Dembele is a bad idea, and naturally enough the latter’s demonstration of muscle proved a marked contrast to the neat, tidy but lightweight bits and bobs of the former. Nevertheless, the point was made – Dier reaches the parts that various other central midfielders cannot.

Amidst all this the absence of Bentaleb was a curious one – it may be that he was simply injured? But if not, conspiracy theorists the world over will be shelving their moon-landing projects and tucking into the Great Bentaleb Disappearance story instead.

Pochettino for all his lovely cuddliness evidently does not suffer fools gladly, so it may be that Bentaleb has fallen foul of the law. Obviously heaven forbid that anyone should question the judgement of the great man, but it would be a wistful AANP who digested such a decision, if indeed such a decision has been made, because Bentaleb bears his canines with a darned sight more menace than Mason or Carroll when patrolling in front of the back line.

4. Game-Changer

Cruise control was rather rudely interrupted in the second half, by that deflected goal. It would be rather rich of us to complain about bad luck after Sunday’s events, but nevertheless we are probably entitled to take thirty seconds out of our rigorous daily routines to feel sorry for ourselves for the manner in which that equaliser looped in. Somewhere in the mists of time, Paul Parker and Peter Shilton are no doubt offering sympathetic inclines of the head.

That said, Mason could have broken into a gallop and worked up a full-blooded body-fling in an attempt to prevent the shot; and while Vorm’s travel bag is no doubt full to the brim with benefit of the doubt proffered from all sides, I am inclined to think he might have done better than that tangled flap. But then here at AANP Towers we always did prefer the stick to the carrot.

Once the goal was scored the match changed fairly dramatically. Credit to our heroes for weathering the initial storm that followed, and as the game edged towards its final toot events panned out in a manner that could be appropriately described as ‘To and Fro’, but the whole binge was far less comfortable than it might have been. Without exactly being overrun, we could well have lost the thing.

5. The Attack

For all the energy, and confidence, and possession, and all those similarly positive epithets that seem to be plastered over our every performance these days, the nagging concern remains at AANP Towers that when it comes to the final third, our lot are still one or two kippers short of a full English breakfast. An attempt was made to beef things up in the closing stages by bringing on Kane for Son, but it’s the supply-line as much as the anointed striker – we still lack a certain je ne sais quoi when it comes to carving up an opponent as if gutting a fish. The occasional neat diagonal pass does not an irresistible force make.

In fact, the majority of our attacking thrust comes from any of our four full-backs, and Davies and Trippier certainly flew the flag with gusto today, at least when on the front foot. Davies’ latest forward burst brought a penalty, and by the end of the game Trippier appeared to be our principal attacking outlet, pitching up every sixty seconds or so on the corner of the opposition penalty area with a cheery wave, ready to whip in his latest offering.

6. “Vital” Away Goal

It is, of course, a legal requirement that any away goal scored in the first leg of a European tie is automatically classified as “vital”. Non-vital away goals simply do not exist. Which makes it all the more regrettable that the whole fabric of the European away-goal continuum could have been broken if we had capitalised upon our opening hour serenity by pilfering a couple more away goals, rendering them all non-vital, and turning things into a straightforward three-goal lead to defend at the Lane.

I’ll start again. In the grand scheme of things, one-one away from home can be greeted with cautious optimism, but this does feel rather like doing things the traditionally Tottenham way. Advantage lilywhite, but plenty of perspiration still to go. The nifty squad rotation was a qualified success, but next week will be no cakewalk and so on and so forth. You get the gist.

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

Everton 1-1 Spurs: 5 Lilywhite Observations

1. Casting A Dubious Eye Over Tom Carroll

Carroll does have a dreamy touch, and if Premiership football were all about popping four-yard passes sideways, and backwards, and actually dispensing with boots and ball and just drawing pretty pictures of trees, then one suspects he would be revered far and wide as some sort of deity. But occasionally, the central midfield waltz seems to require hefty dollops of blood and thunder. Not to mention winning tackles, effecting clearances, tracking opponents and other fittings of similar ilk. And in these respects it seemed from my distant perch that Carroll was wafting his bat but missing the ball by a good foot or two, if you get my drift.

Now it may be that I have pre-judged the chap. You know how it is, you mark a blighter down as ‘nay’ rather than ‘yay’, and thereafter, even if he covers every blade of grass, and rescues a yelping maiden from a burning cottage for good measure, you still dock him points for messy handwriting. So maybe having knocked Carroll as a lightweight, waif-like, toothless, shadow of a lad by about the halfway stage, I may have been far too blinkered in my judgements thereafter. The TV folk certainly sung his praises, which rather goes to show.

But the moments that struck me were when he let Barkley wander past him and then wrapped his arms around him to give him a hug – rather than tackling him – to earn a booking; and when we broke on the left, he received the ball twenty yards from goal and produced from nowhere his best Jermaine Jenas impression by swivelling towards his own net and knocking it backwards fifteen yards to groans from across North London; and the astonishingly inept attempt at a clearing header late on, which bounced off the top of his head in a manner completely bereft of any control, to an Everton chappie who lashed a volley goalwards to draw an outstanding palm from Lloris. Rather a mouthful, but gist of the thing is that Carroll gives the impression of a boy who is only loitering there because his parents have forgotten to collect him.

2. Vertonghen

A big day this, for those charged with keeping things under lock and key. Belgium are apparently the best national team in the world at the moment, which ought to have made today’s game about the standard of a World Cup final if you think about it, but irrespective of that curiosity Messrs Vertonghen and Alderweireld had a challenge and a half in front of them, in the shape of the considerable frame of Lukaku. Being the sort of chap who always struck me as likely to be completely at home diving head-first through a brick wall, our two centre-backs needed to be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed – and by and large they made a solid fist of things. Not all their own way, and the nerves rather frayed a bit towards the end when everything stretched and the pressure ratcheted up several notches, but he was shackled as well as such behemoths can be.

However, if there were one moment that had me uttering a few choice curses it was the goal we conceded. Well, naturally enough I suppose, but particularly Vertonghen’s role in it. I’m not sure he can be faulted for losing the initial header to Lukaku – let us not forget the capacity to headbutt brick walls and suchlike – but why the dickens did Vertonghen turn his back on Lennon as the latter took his shot? This man’s very bread and butter lies in the act of preventing exactly that by any legal means necessary, and he gets paid sackloads for the privilege. Fling every limb at him, dash it. Take one full in the face if you have to.

(While on the topic, it also struck me as a bit odd that Lloris grasped at the thing with his wrong hand (his left), but it seemed a fairly futile cause by that point in any case.)

3. Rip-Snorting First Half

Truth be told, these are relatively minor gripes, and ought not to form chorus and the first couple of verses when the whole thing is eventually committed to song. Our first half was akin to one of those runaway trains that one sees in action films of a certain era, but which never actually happen in real life. Hurtling along at a rate of knots, sparks flying and all sorts. That poor old Kane and Davies failed to strike oil with their respective long-range efforts is to be solemnly lamented, as Kane’s could not have been closer and Davies’ almost ripped the net from its frame. (Although as my old man, AANP Senior is never slow to point out, they only deserve credit if they were aiming for the woodwork.)

Even aside from the close shaves however, our heroes looked at the peak of their powers in the first half. It was as well as they had played all season. The goal conceded was a rotten injustice, but such is life I suppose, and to their credit they kept beavering away until the break. When they play thusly one really does think that they are capable of staying in the Top Four.

4. The Ongoing Ode to Dembele

Not to harp on again about the personnel who were picked in central midfield, but in a quiet moment tonight, as we swirl away our Sunday night bourbons and reflect on life, I suspect many a Spurs fan will wistfully think of what might have been had Dembele been growling around in the centre. Barkley had his moments, and the substitute they brought on had a bit of bite to him, but Dembele when in the mood can snaffle up such opponents like a bulldog chewing at a sausage roll. As the game wore on and Everton exerted more pressure, the heart yearned for yet another Belgian to enter the fray and start barging folk around.

5. Weary Limbs

Pochettino is evidently a man who knows his apples from his oranges, so I would not dare presume the right to criticise – but if I were to be so impertinent I would respectfully clear the throat in the direction of a little squad rotation. Preferably the sort that does not involve young Master Carroll. Our heroes looked a little jaded as events progressed and Act Three hurtled towards its denouement, and Everton almost profited. Something similar occurred a couple of weeks ago at Newcastle, when again the players looked bang out of gas. The brow furrow, what?

Chadli and Son were dutifully thrown on, but might a fresh pair of legs be in order in the engine room? Amidst the evening gloom one could pick out the frame of Bentaleb on the bench, and there might be worse ideas than introducing him for the closing stages, to ensure that angry flecks of spittle continue to fly until the end. Moreover, Harry Kane will sooner or later splutter to a halt and require roadside assistance, although one suspects that the Brains Trust are fully aware of the need to scratch this particular itch.

A closing sentiment? Wonderful, wonderful goal from Dele Alli – the pass, particularly the control, and the very smart execution. Ten festive points is a strong haul. Bonne année.

Spurs 1-2 Newcastle: 3 Lilywhite Observations

1. The Dembele-Shaped Hole

Carroll flitted around the periphery of things looking like a schoolboy, or a ballerina, or a schoolboy ballerina – and with about as much impact as any of the above. Where Dembele (the new improved version) would stick out his chest, grab the game by the scruff of the neck and power from deep straight through the centre of the thing, bludgeoning past all in his way be they friend or foe, Carroll, bless him, hopped and skipped and poked in an occasional dainty foot.

I probably ought to lob up a disclaimer at this juncture, for this is not meant to be a character assassination of the more general sort. I actually have a soft spot for the young pimple, in a Glenn Hoddle sort of way, as he has lovely feet and picks the occasional fruity pass. Something of the Huddlestone about him. (And that goal on Thursday was impudent and delightful in equal measure)

Bother and grumble however, today he started fairly ineffectually and his contribution diminished thereafter, to the point at which in the second half the only sightings of his waif-like figure seemed to be a yard behind the closest Newcastle player. It felt like playing with ten men, with a  hole slap-bang in the middle of the engine, which is a cause for concern because there will presumably be more days when Dembele is laid low between now and May. Young Carroll, I would venture, has slipped beyond Bentaleb and Mason in that particular rank of cabs.

2. Europa Fatigue?

Call me suspicious, but did anybody else notice a distinct air of energy levels sinking to ground level, and not stopping there but burrowing deep within the turf, in that second half? It may have been mental fatigue, it dashed well looked like they were physically spent, but for whatever reason the performance fizzled out entirely.

Neither midfield nor attack seemed capable of holding onto the thing in that second half, and Newcastle snapped up every loose ball going ahead of the nearest shell of a lilywhite. Bless their cotton socks, the poor lambs could barely stick one limb in front of the other by the conclusion, with a couple having to be scraped from the ground at the final whistle by those chaps who wander around afterwards poking the turf with their pitchforks.

Matters this season have revolved rather crucially around the screen in front of the back four. Alas, young Master Dier, the sort of young buck who at the best of times looks like he would rather like to pause events and take a few swigs of O2 to keep things ticking over, waddled around like a car stuck in mud today, second to too many loose balls, and misplacing passes as if in a competition to rack up as many as possible. This unfortunately set the tone for things around him, as nary an attempted through-ball from any one of our fabled attackers did the intended job of slicing up Newcastle like a knife through butter. In fact, more often than not, misplaced ten-yarders outside the Newcastle D tended to be the starting point of one of their counter-attacks.

Europa fatigue? C’est possible. Whatever the cause, our glorious leader needs to don his thinking cap and solve it, because this lot cannot sustain the all-singing, all-dancing, high-octane, full-throttle approach for 90 minutes twice a week until the end of the season.

3. Time for Fresh Legs?

The team has pretty much picked itself all season, barring a Davies here and a Son there, but whichever one of numerous staff in the dugout is responsible for ringing the bell that summons fresh pairs of legs ought to dust off his best suit, because his services are required pronto.

Bentaleb might have been shoved into the thick of things at some point today, to stick out an elbow, shout a rude word or two and generally ignite the thing like the cantankerous young pup he is. Given that he is now presumably fit enough, it might be peeling off the protective layers and playing him from the off in the coming weeks, if only in the interests of saving Dier from collapsing to his knees like the sorry chap in Platoon.

Kane too might be a candidate for an afternoon with his feet up and a good book, as his run of having played a competitive game every day since he was 4 years old stretches on. His spirit is certainly still willing enough, but today he was not quite the exemplar of hold-up play. Although I am not particularly convinced that any of Chadli, Lamela, Son or the boy Clinton are exactly the sort of centre-forward one would expect to roll off the conveyor belts at the factories that churn out these things, the festive fixture list will presumably see one of them don the cape and deputise for a game or two.

No need to don sackcloth and ashes just yet, but a few too many draws and now an awfully flat defeat have temporarily burst the bubble that was floating around the place. Such is life, but the first half was fairly sunny and spiky, and a return to such ways next weekend would cheer the soul no end.

Need a Christmas present for the Spurs fan in your life? AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes, continues to retail at Amazon and Waterstones, hint hint.

Man Utd 1-0 Spurs: 3 Lilywhite Observations

It’s like the thing never went away. Varying degrees of huff and puff, and a smattering of invention that was far too late to be of any consequence, and without playing particularly well or badly the thing was done.

Midfield

The selection of Dier ahead of Mason was shiny and new, but the headlines were grabbed by Bentaleb’s decision to rock up for work still in sunglasses and flip-flops, Hawaiin shirt on back and the distinct whiff of alcohol on his breath. The cat was out of the bag pretty soon, for while he did his best to keep his head down and mooch around in the shadows, all too often he was thrust into the spotlight, and responded by passing the ball to the nearest man in red. He will have better days – in fact every remaining day of his life is likely to be better – but the euthanasia effected by Pochettino shortly after the break was completely understandable.

A Sorry Ode to Own Goal Perpetrators

Ostensibly the fall-guy, truth be told I felt bundles of sympathy for Master Walker. The galloping young cove as ever gave every ounce of effort, and by and large stomped around to fairly solid effect. One of the few entertaining sub-plots to the piece was the joust between Shaw and Walker, and I rather thought our man edged it, by virtue of his barrel chest and third lung. Whether he was tearing up and back, little legs going like the clappers, or spreading his arms like shields of steel in order to escort the ball safely off the vicinity, he just about seemed to win his little personal mano-e-mano. A shame then, that the whole binge was rendered fairly meaningless by that well-intended but ultimately fatal intervention that decided the thing.

I always feel a twinge of sympathy for any man who pops one into his own net, as he always seems to be an ill-deserving buck. In general, it’s a law of science that if the o.g. perpetrator had not spent all that effort charging into his defensive position, an opposing forward would have had something approximating a tap-in. Today was a case in point, with young Walker angrily sprinting back to make the world right, and duly bustling Rooney aside– only to then do the dastardly himself. On top of which, all manner of patronising epithets and backslaps are then duly administered, as if the chap were a bit simple in the head. The whole string of events made young Walker, already the angriest young man in the Premiership, just about ready to pop in a blur of apoplexy – but such is the unfair lot of the own-goal meister.

The Attacking Quartet

Not sure about this mob. The components seem broadly to make sense – a designated central lump, and three mischievous shysters flitting around behind him – but somehow, rather than seamlessly weave together, all four sat in their own designated spots and did not come within a country mile of clicking.

There’s an untruth actually. In the opening exchanges there were one or two moments, and Eriksen might have done better with that early lob when slipped in with a knowing nod and wink by Kane. By and large, alas, these two, plus Dembele and Chadli, kept to themselves, seemingly content to preen around with the knowledge that they were jolly skilful individuals. The thought of banging heads together to create more than the sum of parts seemed strictly off-limits.

It’s the sort of tragic scenario that makes one find a quiet spot and brood. Dembele, Chadli and Eriksen are each, in their own ways, jolly alluring when they purr into gear, and in Football Manager it would probably work a dream. But in reality, one rather expects the pre-nuptial to be dusted off and popped in the post, if you follow my drift.

If It Were Done When ‘Tis Done

And thus, with all the dark inevitability of a Greek tragedy, we limped off with heads bowed. No shame in it, and no doubt we will bounce back – but already a spot cosily ensconced just outside the Top Four feels like it has been reserved. The result, the performance, the general gist of being not quite good enough suggests that the Spurs we know and love is all revved up and ready to trundle.

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

Spurs 2-1 Arsenal: Pochettino Nails It

This must go down as one of the great lilywhite derby performances of recent years. Admittedly l’Arse contributed massively to their own downfall, with a most peculiar gameplan involving minimal aggressive intent, but let that not detract from a fantastic, relentless attacking barrage from our lilywhite heroes.

Unsung Heroes

Particular homage is due to the full-backs, who while far from flawless, could barely be restrained from bombing forward to add much-needed width to proceedings. I many not be alone in suspecting that young Master Walker has returned from injury boasting just three lungs, rather than the four of yesteryear, for he certainly comes across as a couple of yards slower, but both he and Rose tore into the wide open spaces behind the Arse back-four with gay old abandon.

Mason and Bentaleb similarly picked the right note from the off. At times, in their fledgling careers the pair have seemed rather too determined to fight the good fight some five yards in front of the back four, with the switch flicked firmly towards “Safety First, Dagnabbit”, but today, whilst never abandoning the bread-and-butter of things, they could be occasionally sighted tiptoeing their way deep into enemy territory, and fastening their shooting boots accordingly – never more so than the peach of a cross from Bentaleb that created our glorious winner.

The Attacking Mob

Further yet up the pitch was the most massively left-footed attacking triumvirate since Ryan Giggs and Lee Sharpe decided to get down and party with Clayton Blackmore, in the short-shorted era of yesteryear. Messrs Eriksen and, in particular, Dembele and Lamela seem drawn to their left feet like moths to a flame. Such is life, and there was enough about the supporting cast to prevent  from everyone simply toppling over  to the left, but the introduction of Chadli could not come soon enough.

Dembele’s Right Peg

Dembele looks a man reborn since being lifted from his two-year stupor by virtue of being shunted about ten yards further forward. Now, when he loses interest and opts to shove the balls sidewards, with the suspicious air of a moody teen about to smoke something naughty, he shoves the ball sidewards in a threatening area of the pitch, into the path of a Rose or Walker arriving at full pelt. Admittedly that right foot remains strictly for balance only, but the chap’s renaissance as an attacking force is more than welcome.

As for Lamela – one is happy enough to sweep his shortcomings under the rug of general victory-induced bonhomie, but the fact remains that for a man more talented than just about anyone else on the pitch he does peddle a unique line in simply giving the dashed thing away every time he touches it.

God Bless Harry Kane

But let us not dwell on the more dubious minutiae – there will be plenty of time to wail and gnash teeth on other days. This was a day to celebrate the unlikely glory of Harry Kane, who despite maintaining (for about six consecutive months) the appearance of a man about to lose control of the ball, his own limbs and all semblance of physics, continues to tear up all before him – with left foot, right foot, from close range, long range or with his head.

Bravo Pochettino

As much as anything else however, this was a triumph for the grand fromage. The all-action, energetic approach; the pressing high up the pitch; and the very deployment of over-enthusiastic pups like Mason, Kane and Bentaleb paid absolutely glorious dividends today. Absolutely marvellous stuff.

Spurs Holiday Musings – Liverpool Loss & Fond Farewells

AANP has just biffed off on holiday this last week (Malta, since you ask), and these sunny retreats to foreign climes would not be worthy of the name if they did not at some point involve tracking down an English-themed watering-hole to watch Spurs get thoroughly dismantled, to the mirth of the nearby pink-faced denizens.

Despite the uncontainable urge amongst some of particularly dramatic ilk to race to the nearest hasty conclusion and yelp “Crisis! False dawn! Just not good enough, dash it!” this strikes me as but a stumble along a fairly promising path. A jolly chastening stumble mind, complete with unceremonious landing and all the trimmings, but not yet the moment to be inciting unrest amongst the nearest angry mob.

Midfield Creativity: AWOL

Particularly infuriating was the fact that that smug lot beat us at our own game, blast them – harrying off the ball, counter-attacking in a blurry burst of heels and generally executing some slick, incisive stuff in the final third.

By contrast, Bentaleb and Capoue seemed resolute in their determination to avoid anything with the merest whiff of deep-lying creativity (which potentially gives the Brains Trust food for thought in The Great Capoue Vs Dembele Debate, given the Belgian’s uncontrollable urge to puff out a chest and trundle goalward). The dull hum of inactivity behind them meant quite the onus on Eriksen, Chadli and Lamela to run riot. Alas, the first two in particular seemed not to care for such frivolous duties, seemingly content instead to bask in the glory of the previous week’s efforts, and other than the occasional long ball hoicked over the top there was nary a sniff of goal all afternoon.

Adebayor showed a hint of spirit, as did Lamela in the second half, like a couple of puppies haring round after the ball, but for all their gusto there was precious little effect, and by and large ignominy was jolly well in her element and having an absolute whale of a time. This being Spurs such things happen, but the imperative for Pochettino and chums now is to ensure that this is most certifiably the exception rather than the rule.

Fond Farewells

And to round off a rather doleful few days we have now bid rather hasty farewells to a couple of the elder statesmen. Few could make a convincing case that Daws is still of top-rate Premiership quality (the highlights of his Hull debut appeared rather cruelly to corroborate this), but the blighter could not have been more committed to the lilywhite cause if he were hatched from a cockerel’s egg laid in the centre of the White Hart Lane turf. And by all accounts a thoroughly decent old bean too. Oh that a spot could have been found for him as a permanent mascot leading the players onto the pitch each week. Gone, but absolutely not forgotten, I suspect that it is not just at AANP Towers he will be welcome to a free bourbon any time he jolly well chooses.

Amidst the hullaballoo of it all, the bods at the top have sneakily shunted Sandro down the exit chute as well. Of quality and endearing commitment he had plenty, and the weekly axis of awesomeness that he formed alongside Dembele a couple of years back will live long in the memory, but the point has been made that the poor blighter was rarely in good health, so the rationale for selling him is understandable, if nevertheless regrettable.

Two long-serving troops is probably enough for one episode of this particular soap opera, but despite a few swirling murmurs Monsieur Kaboul remains in situ. Time is not in the habit of waiting for the good mortals of this sphere, but in Kaboul’s case Time seems to have legged it while the Frenchman’s back was turned and disappeared into the distance. No longer the colossus of two or three years back, the Liverpool game was the latest indication that the chap has lost several yards of pace, and is adding a distinct flavour of fallibility to proceedings at the back. Captain by default he may be, but he looks less and less the inspiring leader with every passing minute. One rather hopes that the new chap Fazio is fully-clad and limbered up, because his appears the next cab on the rank.

Idle Musings on Tottenham at the World Cup

Don’t mind AANP breezing through your Sunday evening with a few musings on the lilywhite brigade busting their respective guts at the marvellous World Cup…

Paulinho, Brazil

Like Djimi Traore proudly keeping a Champions League Winner’s medal stuffed alongside the small change in his pocket, and Ian Bell possessing one hundred caps for the England cricket team, there is something that makes me shed a small tear and wonder if there but for the grace of God about the notion that, should the hosts go on and win the whole bally thing, then Paulinho will be a World Cup winner.

Perhaps precisely because Paulinho is the heartbeat of said team do they look like they need a pacemaker and possibly some bypass surgery at present. The blighter has so far looked every inch the impotent midfield passenger, which has actually been vaguely comforting for those who like to watch their World Cup without worrying that the very fabric of the universe will collapse under the weight of absurdity of seeing him suddenly become some sort of footballing genius.

One never knows I suppose. The chap may be Pele incarnate in training, and simply under managerial orders to bob around the pitch like a man tasked with chasing his own shadow once the action gets under way.

BAE, Cameroon

Controversial though it may be, I have never particularly subscribed to the school of though that Benny deserves extra sprinkles on his ice-cream for being some sort of kooky, anti-establishment hero. Call me old-fashioned but I prefer my footballers to switch off their phones and concentrate on playing football first and foremost, with the notable addendum that full-backs jolly well ought to prioritise defending, with absurd haircuts and own-area Cruyff-turns a long way down the list.

So seeing BAE let his man drift away from him, ‘track back’ a good 15 yards behind play, fail to close down attackers as they prepared to shoot and then languidly dangle a leg whilst turning away as the aforementioned shot pinged in, was all a little too much for one of my delicate constitution. Nor was I amongst the throngs howling in delight as he aimed an idiotic headbutt at a team-mate, of all dashed things. Absolutely hollow of head, that chap.

Lloris, France

Mercifully the fine qualities of sanity and solidarity were waving merrily at us from between the two French sticks, where Monsieur Lloris had gone about his business mopping up the dregs in suitably dignified fashion during the two French wins. Not that he was required to do an awful lot, but as he has managed to go 2 games without assaulting the nearest team-mate he qualifies as one of our most successful lilywhite ambassadors.

Vertonghen & Chadli, Belgium

Appallingly enough, the day-job prevented AANP from the serious business of casting a discerning eye over the assembled lilywhite hordes in the Belgium-Algeria match. However, there was something dashed predictable in flicking to online text commentary to learn that Chadli had been withdrawn from proceedings at the halfway stage, on the grounds of invisibility.

A penalty conceded by Vertonghen in the same game suggests that, at least in terms of headline-making, this was a slightly underwhelming day for the great and good of N17’s Flemish contingent, and Vertonghen was duly relegated to the bench for his sins, appearing for around half their second game and hardly covering himself in glory there either.

Bentaleb, Algeria

As mentioned, no comment on Algeria’s first game, but midway through their second and young Bentaleb seems to have been rotated 90 degrees by his national manager, a masterstroke that has him passing sideways and sometimes even forwards, as opposed to the usual backwards thing peddled ad nauseam at the Lane.

Norwich 1-0 Spurs: Midfield Anonymity, Defensive Comedy & Soldado

Confusing I know, and I realise that if the attention wanders for a day or two one loses track completely, but just so everyone is clear – this week the dial is being flicked over to “CRISIS”.

Midfield

Not that that seemed to register with our heroes. Bless them, they had to play twice this week don’t you know, and chug through passport control and squat into their Easyjet seats and whatnot, so it was unsurprising that a few of them looked like they were just biding time until they received a leg massage. The central midfield mob looked anything but razor-sharp, with Paulinho ambling around like a passenger on the tube who sticks his earphones in, opens his Kindle and resolutely avoids eye-contact with anyone in the hope that the blasted journey might finish a bit faster if nobody notices him. Meanwhile Bentaleb did a pretty smart job of studiously avoiding any meaningful contribution – and as if by magic our heroes had reduced the contribution of three central midfielders to two, and at times just the one. A nifty piece of legerdemain, which can have observers rubbing their eyes and scratching their heads in bewilderment.

Defence

More entertainment was to be had behind them, as Messrs Rose, Dawson and Naughton tootled around like little wind-up cars that had been released across the carpet. ‘Twas a good day for all Dawson Bingo enthusiasts, as he over-committed and sold himself nice and early, made some of those heroic full-stretch blocks, won a few meaty headers and found time for a caution, all in all a fine advert for the centre-backery of Monsieur Kaboul. The sooner his latest malady is remedied the better for all mankind.

Attack

What on earth goes on in poor Soldado’s head is anyone’s guess, but the young wretch seems physically unable to score. Rather like the chap in the new Robocop film, his programming simply forbids him to do it, which is a dashed shame because as well as looking the dickens of a imbecile whenever he blasts the ball wide, had he taken the chance that was presented to him on a salver, with gleaming cutlery and a glass of vintage red, we would have been well set for all three points.

One might bemoan that wit and ingenuity were nowhere to be seen, but such protestation would be quibbled by the pedants amongst us, for there it was, huddled up on the subs bench watching life tick by. Maddening stuff, as our mob by and large just ambled through the motions, apart from the late, token attempt to batter their way through in the closing stages when Townsend came on to liven things up.

So the drill now is that the thumping of Newcastle is a thing of the past, and crisis time is upon us again because the Top Four are disappearing over the hills. Until next week presumably. Mean time we can all plunge our knives Sherwood-wards, and lament and howl and look longingly at the gap above us.

Newcastle 0-4 Spurs: Three Reasons to Rejoice

1. The Return of Kaboul

Slaughter a calf! Inflate a balloon! Find a young maiden and go down on bended knee! For, ye gods be praised, Kaboul is back, and in the team, chest puffed, pace increasing, eyebrows immaculately plucked. The return of Kaboul quite possibly makes me happier than winning four-nil away from home. Three points is three points, but Vertonghen-Kaboul is a foundation on which a whole bally world of awesomeness can be built.

Moreover, the purring of this particular axis has the most desirable consequence of leaving Young Master Daws consigned to the thumb-twiddling HQ that is the substitutes’ bench, a position from which even he is unable to inflict calamity upon proceedings by the delivery of an ill-timed lunge. When masterfully-timed lunges were required yesterday Monsieur Kaboul delivered. Not necessarily a flawless performance, as the back-four did occasionally resemble four slightly wonkily linked pieces of Meccano, but the gist of thing is to rejoice and be glad.

2. The All-Action Switch Is Flicked

Moving ever so slightly up the pitch, it was a cause of more delight that the lethargy of Sunday afternoon had been binned, and every outfield player was instead embarking on a personal drive to lay siege to the Newcastle goal. With Bentaleb a lot further forward than has ever been the case, both full-backs deciding that they would spend the evening doing work experience in the wingers’ office and even our trusty centre-backs (another bow if you will, Monsieur Kaboul) unable to resist the urge to charge at the home defence, the entire troupe looked like they were having an absolutely riotous time. Until Newcastle countered.

A better team may well have taken advantage of this whiff of naivety, but that is probably something to be brooded over another day. We tore into Newcastle with gusto – never more enjoyably so than in that late attack when the ball was rolled to the right of the area and literally four Spurs players converged upon it unopposed – and for this we should once again rejoice and be glad.

3. Our Lot: Big Lads

As a wide-eyed, gullible and slightly annoying youth, AANP occasionally took time out from recorder concerts  and spelling-tests to listen to his elders curse and bemoan the fact that for all their silky flair our heroes rather lacked a steely underbelly. Looking at the line of body-builders and tree-trunks that trotted out for the handshakes yesterday it seems reasonable to opine that those days are receding into the annals. Kaboul, Walker, Capoue, Dembele, Paulinho, Bentaleb and Adebayor are the sort of solid units one would not particularly enjoy trying to slyly shoulder-charge into the advertising hoardings, which, if nothing else, ought to make young Aaron Lennon feel well looked after.

From faintly ridiculous to borderline sublime in the space of three days, we now find ourselves not only three points off the CL spots, but seven points off the summit. Heavens above.

Swansea 1-3 Spurs: First XI vs Squad Players

Bless them, Swansea genuinely are a team I would like to play every week. Like some sort of Tottenham Hostpur-lite, they really do not look the sort of troupe who like to get their shirts dirty with any of that tackling nonsense (although Chiriches and his pretty little face might beg to differ), and they would happily spend all day pinging short passes to one another if they could, even if doing so means creating all manner of difficulty for themselves in their own area, just because it all looks so pretty. In the final analysis, it feels a little bit like watching our first eleven playing the squad players.

In the opening half hour it did admittedly seem that our back-four were but one killer pass away from being rather brutally dismembered, but with each passing week it becomes ever more apparent that this is actually just a hilarious optical illusion of the Sherwood Era, and that Chiriches and Dawson actually have everything under control at all times, and are secretly smoking cigars rather than breaking sweat.

A pat on the back too for young Master Walker, who went steaming up the line with such vim and vigour that one imagines he eschewed the bus ride and instead sprinted all the way back to North London. Bentaleb also toddled around with the air of a young man who had arrived at the office with pencils sharpened and a nice clear agenda for the day. It is easy to see why the Brains Trust ’14 like the cut of his jib, for as jibs go his is cut with a pleasing mix of aggression and uncomplicated passing.

However, the shiniest star is saved for young Eriksen, who seemed rather at ease with life in a more central position. Indeed, the forfeiting of Soldado for Chadli had the salubrious side-effect of allowing the midfielders generally to buzz into each other’s territory whenever they spotted something that took their fancy, and this being Swansea it didn’t particularly matter who did what. Chadli himself did not exactly blow up anybody’s skirt, but the principle served well enough, and suggests that when fit again the future could look bright for Lamela.

Dawson Watch

AANP would not be the grumpy soul he is without a whinge or two about glorious captain, and indeed in the first half boxes were duly ticked as he went sliding full pelt in typically whole-hearted and ill-time manner at one point, and then executed that scarcely believable two-handed shove on a chap in the penalty area, a manoeuvre rather generously ignored by the ref. But by golly all was forgiven in the second half, when of all things he rolled a perfectly-weighted diagonal pass inside the full-back and into the path of young Master Walker, leading directly to our second goal. Who would have thought the old man to have so much cunning in him?

Other Highlights

As well as Dawson’s Modric moment, there was also Kyle Walker’s quite glorious dummy in the final moments, that left some poor Swansea bean on his posterior, and the Eriksen cross for the opening goal, that curled so viciously I felt a little dirty just watching it. To their credit, both Dawson and Chiriches did the honourable things in central defence with minimal nonsense, particularly against an opponent such as Bony, who appears to have much of the barnstorm in his constitution.

A cheery day’s work then, and the glint in his eye will tell you that Sherwood has his little mitts set on that Manager of the Month award. The fixtures may have been kind, but the football is fun, the goals are rolling in at a healthy lick and the Top Four remains within spitting distance.

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