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Spurs 1-0 Watford: Five Lilywhite Observations

1. Davies

Amongst they many sunny innovations introduced by our glorious leader into N17 is the fact that when it comes to attacking, just about every man and his dog is heartily encouraged to fasten his bayonet, clear his throat and charge straight in. Admittedly Monsieur Lloris is excluded from all the fun, but at any given time we have at least seven men sniffing blood and yowling at the moon. That Kane and the three behind him will be primed to attack is a given, and Dembele is never particularly averse to puffing out his chest and bulldozing forward; but with Eric Dier obediently filling in as a third centre-back whenever we are in possession, licence is also duly granted to the full-backs to go hurtling forward at the merest whiff of an attack. (The casual reader ought to be made aware at this point that the strategy of employing a defensive midfielder to act as a locum third centre-back was first introduced by AANP on Championship Manager in the late ‘90s – albeit to slightly less devastating effect than the current Spurs vintage, as relegation was only avoided on the final day of the season as I recall.)

Back in the realms of the real world, young Messrs Davies and Trippier duly got stuck in like a pair of kids granted the bonus of opening a present on Christmas Eve of all things, as neither could be restrained from tearing forward into the final third. Davies in particular scurried forward like a man possessed, channelling is his inner Bale to set up camp in a position about twenty yards from the Leicester by-line, and the afternoon quickly became notable for the sight of him haring off into the area at approximately every thirty seconds.

Not that this gung-ho spirit alone was sufficient to win the game, cure cancer and end global poverty, for Davies’ final ball still tends to miss as well as hit – but no doubt about it, the mere presence of a left-back galloping at them in fifth gear undeniably had the Watford back-line exchanging worried looks, as if to say to one another “What ho!”

2. Trippier

A dashed shame that Davies’ forays brought little more than wistful groans from the crowd, for he deserved more. Merrily however, out on t’other flank, Trippier similarly took the hint and, having waved a cheery ‘Adieu’ to his chums in the lilywhite back-four, he spent the afternoon making himself at home in the role of de facto winger, flying forward as the right-sided member of our attacking septet. Clearly such things have an addictive edge, for not content with the role of flying winger he then went the whole hog and turned himself into a Number 9, poaching from inside the six-yard box. Young people will do such things. All a far cry from my days as an eminently forgettable schoolboy right-back when any journey north of the halfway line required a brief lie-down to cope with the drama of it all, but Pochettino knows his apples from his pears, and this season every outfield player is buying into the notion that ‘Someone has to score, dash it, so why not get involved?’

3. Profligacy

Mind you, it’s a good job that young Trippier did indeed take time out from the day-job to treat us to his Gary Lineker (circa 80s-90s) impression, because nobody else seemed to have solved the riddle of putting ball in net. Apparently we pinged in 26 shots during the course of yesterday’s binge – 26! – which really begs the question of what on earth is wrong with our heroes’ radars. Admittedly Gomes in the Watford goal was in elastic mood, but nevertheless. One goal from twenty-six shots is the sort of thing that ought to have the whole lot of them queueing up at the confessional. It is more of a side-note than a grumble, but it occurred to me as Watford won their first corner, with about ten minutes remaining, that by that stage the thing really ought to have been tucked up in bed with a soothing lullaby, rather than still hanging in the balance.

4. Lamela – Chadli

Pochettino comes across as far too good an egg to do anything as naughty as make rude gestures or anything similarly dastardly, but I do wonder whether he might have aimed a meaningful look at one or two observers, as he handed in his teamsheet. A fair amount of hot air and ink has been invested in questioning the depth of our squad this season (not least in these quarters, I should probably admit), but having made a habit of swapping his full-backs around like ping-pong balls under paper cups in some sort of magic trick, our glorious leader took his squad rotation to a new level yesterday by fiddling with the knobs and dials further up the pitch. Out went Dele Alli and Sonny Jimbo, and in came Lamela, the furry rodent that sits permanently atop Lamela’s head and Nacer Chadli.

Lamela and Chadli both did adequately enough without exactly leaving grown men quivering in speechless delight, but the proof of the pudding was in the scoreboard at around 16.52 GMT, and as such we can laud a selection well tinkered. Dele Alli was given some extra time to catch his breath and post on social media, or whatever it is the young folk do these days, and the world was reminded that there are plenty of ensemble members willing and able to slot into the spots behind the front man. And that, in as many words, is just about the point of squad rotation, no?

With Dembele having already had an enforced break this season, and young Wimmer having marked his replacement of Vertonghen with consecutive clean sheets, it appears that squad depth is not necessarily quite the headache that one had anticipated when the clocks went back a few months ago. Indeed, the only chaps whose services seem to be required come hell or high water are Dier (either in midfield or, in the Cups, at centre-back) and Kane. One does not really want to contemplate the consequences of a long-ish term absence of the latter, so we just won’t. The point is, changes can be made but our spine remains strong and the incoming personnel seem capable enough.

5. Second In The League!

And by golly, just look where we are now! Some may suggest that we have been here before, and there would be a modicum of truth in the claim – but not in mid-February, what? At the time of writing we are still at least five points clear of fifth, and still, bizarrely, in with a sniff of the title. Which is simply not a thing I ever thought would happen in my lifetime. My head currently says third, the minimum now must be fourth, and, absurdly, we have an outside shot at the title. A head-scratcher for sure. But given that at the start of the season I had realistically suggested fifth, there already seems reason enough to start sharpening the knives and throwing pointed glances in the direction of the fattened calf. Just about every Spurs fan I know has that sentiment of part-gloom, part-realism deep within their core, and consequently we are all fairly adamant that there something will go wrong between now and mid-May – but I am quite happy to worry about that at the appropriate time. For now, second in the league is a splendid way to end the weekend.

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

Palace 1-3 Spurs: THAT Goal & 4 Other Lilywhite Observations

1. THAT Goal

Hoddle-esque. Gazza-esque. A goal so good you would let it marry your daughter. Words cannot really do justice to the strike and technique itself, so instead I’ll waft over a couple of associated thoughts. The move in its entirety for example, had the jolly pleasing aesthetic quality lent to it by the fact that the ball did not touch the ground from the moment Kane swirled in his cross, to Eriksen’s cushioned header, to Alli’s one-two-three touch, swivel and shot.

On a separate note, young Alli must have one heck of a brand of confidence flowing through his veins, to even contemplate trying a gag like that. ‘Instinct’ seems to be the buzzword, but if he had had the general blues about his game, the way the match had treated him or life in general, he may well have looked simply to shovel the ball back whence it came and let someone else take responsibility. Mind you, he’s never exactly come across as a shrinking violet on the field.

One lilywhite chum messaged me to say that if you look at the ‘onrushing’ Palace defender tasked with blocking the shot, he decides against flinging himself body and soul into the path of the ball, and turns his back on the shot. Channelling his inner Vertonghen, if you will. Now this seems a rather joyless way to critique one of the finest ever lilywhite goals, but on watching the replay I take the point. Let’s not spoil the thing though, what?

2. Blur of Movement

Stepping out onto the balcony and taking a more panoramic view of things, this should go down as another cracking little win, one which  hammers home the point that this 2015/16 vintage are not as green as they’re cabbage-looking. For a second consecutive week, the rasping injustice of falling behind in a game we were absolutely dominating was deemed nothing more than a minor inconvenience, and they ploughed ahead with the policy line of jinking one-touch passes around the opposition area. There is nothing particularly new to our heroes about having to work right from the first toot on breaking down two defensive banks of four – our reputation evidently precedes us. What brought a rosy glow to the cheeks on observing events unfold was the bright-eyed and bushy-tailed manner in which they set about the task yesterday.

There have been times in weeks gone by (at least one of the Leicester games, maybe Newcastle at home) when our attempts to penetrate the impenetrable have essentially been, when broken down into raw constituent parts, a series of sideways passes. Earnest and willing, but a little lacking in creativity – more akin to repeatedly shoving a blunt knife at a lock and hoping something will give. Yesterday however there was all manner of off-ball movement, right from the moment the curtain went up. This lent itself fairly naturally to the full range of slick, short, first-time passes; and the gist of the thing was that we buzzed around with intent throughout, and particularly in the first half. Worth lobbing an honourable mention for this week’s chosen full-backs too, who set up camp firmly in the final third of the field, meaning that we also had a cracking spread of busy options spanning the width of the field from right to left. And by extension, the weekly tip of the hat to Dier, whose immaculate positioning enables the attacking juices of the aforementioned full-backs to flow so liberally.

3. The Latest Team Tinkerings

While one broadly understands the gist of things when it comes to Pochettino scribbling down the names of the chosen ones, there are an increasing number of spicy little sub-plots bubbing away under the surface. The full-back hokey-cokey for one thing, and in recent weeks, the choice of Dembele or Carroll (which is hardly a contest at all, but became a matter of concern when the Belgian was returning to fitness). The latest tete-a-tete has been between young Sonny jimbo and Eric Lamela. Son’s bravura midweek performance earned him the nod, and I was jolly glad to see it , for te much-vaunted Lamela Resurgence of 2015-16 has yet to utterly convince in these four walls of the interweb. Yes he certainly beavers away with the right attitude, chasing back and scrapping for things like anyway Pochettino minion should, but the chap’s principal role is as one of our resident Magicians-in-Chief, and in this respect he always seems to underwhelm a tad. Son, however, seemed to work things out pretty quickly, and set out taking on his man and thumping in his shots tout de suite. Given the strength of Chadli’s late cameo as well, I wonder if Lamela has suddenly been bumped down the list of cabs on the rank.

4. Substitutions

Generally out glorious leader seems to enjoy a degree of structure to his life. Who knows, maybe he is the sort to neatly fold his clothes on a chair the night before, and opt for a couple of Weetabix every morning with a banana for elevenses. Or maybe not. Whatever the case, he tends to avoid tearing up the teamsheet and trying all manner of new and exciting permutations if a like-for-like substitution is available. A polite ripple of applause then, for his decidedly more proactive move yesterday when we were one down, in hooking the ever-dependable Eric Dier, instructing Dembele to operate ten yards further back, and introducing Chadli into the attacking maelstrom. Most obviously, Chadli duly created one, scored a beauty (and delivered an absolute peach of a crossfield ball in the dying moments); and more broadly, it left us with eight outfield players blessed with a natural urge to burst forward and create (plus two ball-playing centre backs).

On top of which, the Pocehttino applecart was duly upset further by the hobble sustained by Vertonghen, which meant that for the first time this season our sacrosanct centre-back duopoly was separated, and young Master Wimmer was introduced. He did well enough, in increasingly frantic circumstances, but certainly had a solid game vs Leicester in midweek.

5. Lady Luck

One to remember next time we don the sackcloth and ashes, and bemoan the way of the world – at one apiece Palace managed to slap the crossbar twice in around five seconds. Crumbs. Mind you, Alli gave the crossbar a hefty thwack himself, so for those who keep track of these things I suppose there is much to ponder.

In the final analysis however, this was a victory well earned, built on superiority rather than good fortune. The first half in particular was absolutely one-way traffic, punctuated only by that blasted own-goal; whilst our three goals were all, in their own ways, absolute snorters – and a five-point gap is now in evidence, between us and the fifth-placed mob.

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.

Man City 4-1 Spurs: The Definitive Verdict On All 4 Pens

Since the players could not blow their nose without that wretch awarding another penalty this afternoon, it might simplify things to report on things by giving names to the various spot-kicks. So the one that involved Lampard, Lamela and possibly a gust of wind we shall christen ‘Reginald’; the red card fiasco will be ‘Phyllis’; our glorious opportunity shall be known as ‘Maxine’; and the other one can be ‘Greg’.

Reginald

Opening blows had already been exchanged when Reginald struck. Lamela appeared to tickle Lampard with a feather, and that proved all the encouragement needed for our resident law-enforcer.

A salutary lesson here for young Lamela. Like Dier against Liverpool earlier this season (let’s call that one ‘Jan-Michael’, for simplicity), the alleged foul was as soft as the luxurious fur of some endangered species of animal, but the moral of the story is clear enough – just don’t give the referee the option to make such calls. There was no reason for Lamela to nestle up to Lampard from behind, as the City man waddled into the area. Leave him alone man, leave that to one of those chaps facing the right way. (Although ardent followers of ‘Greg’ might beg to differ, but more on that later).

Greg

I rather lost track of the chronology of the thing, but Greg was the clearest penalty of the lot, involving as it did Monsieur Kaboul’s latest real-time demonstration of his waning powers. Once upon a time this chap was quite the colossus – all barrel chest, thundering pace and perfectly-sculpted eyebrows. These days it seems that he has it in his contract to magic from thin air a seismic blunder, as if to illustrate to young protégé Chiriches in vivid HD precisely how one should create catastrophe in the heart of the defence. Bang on cue he flew into a needless, mis-timed lunge, and Greg was born. ‘Sacre bleu’, poor old Hugo presumably mutters to himself, as he views the carnage ahead of him, before pulling off his latest astonishing save. He deserves better.

Phyllis

Another from the Chiriches School of Complete Mental Absence, there could be no doubt that Fazio yanked back the forward, practically shoving the ref out of the way in order to do so. The whole wretched performance was delivered with all the surreptitiousness of a four year-old standing with hand in cookie jar and chocolate smeared all over their mouth, and for that this oak-tree of a man deserves nothing less than to have a limb hacked off with a rusty saw. It would not be stretching things to suggest that liberal quantities of salt be sprinkled across the bloody stump either.

But a red card? Dash it all, in order to be a ‘goalscoring opportunity’ the ball had to bypass two defenders, the striker had to gallop another ten yards and a nearby elephant had to jump through a flaming hoop. Admittedly, I suspect that if Phyllis had not been awarded our heroes would have found a way to concede anyway, but the nub of the thing is that there was a heck of a sequence of bits and bobs that needed crossing and dotting before the goalscoring chance actually materialised. And as such, the red card was even more cryptic than that slapped in Kyle Naughton’s face against West Ham on the opening day of the season.

Maxine

Easy to forget when you slink off 4-1 down at the culmination of things, but with 20 minutes to go an unlikely heist was on the verge of execution. Penalty to our lot, with a chance to reach parity, if you recall.

In truth Maxine was a devious mistress, because the foul appeared to occur a smidgeon or two outside the area. However, the ref by this stage was well into party mood, pointing to the spot with all the gay abandon of a champagne-quaffing reveller, and frankly it was nice to be remembered by him.

Poor old Soldado’s was not the worst penalty ever – it ticked some of the standard boxes one dreams up for this thing (on target; low; heading more or less for the corner;) – but thus do cookies crumble.

Elsewhere – Capoue & Mason

Aside from the penalties there were all manner of bells, whistles, character developments and sub-plots. And none of them seemed to involve Capoue, on whom I kept a particularly watchful eye today, just for sport. What purpose did the chap serve? He held his position religiously enough, bobbing around five yards in front of the comedy act known as our back-four, but seasons will change and empires rise and fall before the blighter ever makes an intervention of note.

By contrast, young Master Mason bounded around with all the enthusiasm of a young puppy released into the back garden for his daily jaunt. The brio will presumably fade and cynicism settle in (a la Dembele and Soldado, par example), but he did not waste an opportunity to burst a lung for the cause today, and could frequently be sighted trying to socialise with his elders in the attacking triumvirate. Not afraid to fly into a tackle either, his challenge creating our goal.

All told, the outcome was rather a blow to the solar plexus, but for over an hour our lot dug away, and a point looked possible. The drill against Top Four teams seems to be clear enough – keep things tight (through team shape, rather than dazzling defensive prowess from the individual personnel), and scamper forward via Eriksen, Chadli and Lamela at every opportunity. At times this front three looked razor-sharp, but the salient point this season is likely to be whether they can score more at one end than the assorted clowns concede at the other, week in and out.

Musings on Arsenal 1-1 Spurs

A quiet triumph for our glorious leader, this one. Coming on the back of the wretched Sunderland draw, and wretcheder West Brom defeat, the polite coughs around Pochettino had been increasing in volume all week, but credit to the man. The air around Finsbury Park presumably still resounds to the irate warbling of Wenger, who took a deep breath at the full-time whistle yesterday and has not stopped grumbling since, but this was a dashed hard-earned point for our lot.

This was not the time for coruscating interplay, merry quip and flashing badinage. This was not a time for Chiriches, and his Dali-esque take on the art of defending. Evidently not a fan of early 90s brat pack western Young Guns II: Blaze of Glory, Pochettino sagaciously eschewed the notion of our heroes getting shot to death one after another in the quest for bravura headlines, and instead stuck to the markedly less glamorous – but infinitely more sensible – project entitled ‘Work Your Cotton Socks Off, Stick to the Plan And Take Home A Point’.

Kaboul and Vertonghen had the right idea, neither toddling off more than six paces from the other, and all around them in lilywhite were faces etched with concentration. Rose and Naughton in particular can puff their chests today, for rarely have two young beans attracted such opprobrium over their careers as this pair from yours truly – but they jolly well filled the unforgiving minutes with distance run yesterday.

Lloris

The shiniest gold star however, without doubt goes to our trusty guardian of the net. Amidst all the hours of debate surrounding his frightfully modern role of sweeper ‘keeper, one sometimes forgets about young Lloris’ du pain et du beurre, but when push came to shove and the shots flew in yesterday he dashed well had every angle covered, beaten only by the elaborate full-body-wrap-around dummy thrown by the wretched Welbeck. Rather excitingly, one second half save even had the gods of goal-line technology awoken from their slumbers, which presumably had Jonathan Pearce’s brain melting out of his ears.

A Mild Regret

Not wanting to sound ungrateful about things, but given that throughout the entire game we only managed to touch the ball about seven times, it was mildly annoying that we made rather a pickle of two or three jolly presentable counter-attack opportunities, in the first half in particular. We did eventually get the final ball right – Lamela hitting the bullseye with his assist for Chadli – but one or two more of those in the first half and we might have had a two- or even three-goal lead to spurn. Ah well, live and learn, what?

A Glimpse of the Future

If our general game-plan was one of locking ourselves in a bunker and waiting for the ongoing alien invasion to pass overhead, the longer-term Pochettino approach was at least given a brief and stirring cameo when we took the lead. Much hot air has been expelled about the whole business of ‘pressing high up the pitch’, but with Adebayor ambling around with all the energy of doleful sloth this fabled approach has been as rare as a two-headed rabbit so far this season, so it was jolly heartening to see our heroes snaffle the ball just 30 yards from the opposition goal yesterday, and proceed to cross t’s and dot i’s until the net was rippling.

And to round things of, a round of applause to the unfeasibly young arbiter of proceedings, who did a cracking job of preventing a full-scale riot by cautioning Chadli for his irresponsible and over-the-top goal celebration. Goodness knows, the very fabric of society would have come crashing down around us if that fine bastion of the rulebook had not waved yellow in Chadli’s face. The relief in the corridors of power today has been palpable.

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

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.

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