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Spurs 1-1 Newcastle: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. Lo Celso

Odd to say it now, but things started pretty swimmingly.

Our lot, without ever really purring into top gear, were on top throughout. There have been plenty of games in recent years when opponents have sat back to defend, and we have laboured accordingly, passing sideways and backwards without a glimmer of a chance – this was not one of those occasions. For sure we ought to have hit the bottom corners – no fantasy points are awarded to a player for hitting woodwork, blast it – but opportunities were at least being created at a fair old lick.

(It should be pointed out that Newcastle were absolutely appalling, seemingly incapable of executing even the most basic facets of the game.

Lob a ball gently at one of their lot, and it would bounce off them as if hitting a concrete wall. Invite them to roll a six-yard pass under no pressure, and they would instead ping the thing out of play. At one point one of their number tried to turn approximately ninety degrees in a clockwise direction – a skill that most able-bodied folk manage to execute breezily enough – but succeeded only in falling to earth like a collapsing tower, and, for added comedic value, grabbing the ball with his hand on his way down.)

No doubt Newcastle’s players are better than their performance today indicated, but even with our umpteen missed chances I did not at any point have the slightest concern about our profligacy (until Carroll biffed along, and the aerial bombardment began). Until that point there seemed no way on earth that Newcastle would trouble us. Bar the goalkeeper, collectively they had a stinker.

Back to our lot, and they put on show some pretty decent fare throughout. For this, I give much of the credit to Lo Celso. He might not necessarily be as naturally gifted as Christian Eriksen, but where Eriksen would quietly fade out of existence during games, Lo Celso, like some annoying, attention-seeking youth, seemed pretty eager to be at the centre of things.

Taking up a possession neatly in between midfield and attack, much of what was good went through his size nines, a sure sign that here was a bounder in no mood to shirk responsibility.

Moreover, he appears to be one of those rare beasts whose natural instinct on receiving the ball is automatically to pass forward. This might not sound particularly revolutionary, but after the diet of midfield sorts who seem intent on passing sideways or backwards as if their lives depend on it, this makes for pretty refreshing stuff.

Not every pass necessarily hit the mark, but as often as not he tried to pick an early pass in between defenders, for the attacking mob to run onto, and frankly it’s a joy to behold.

2. Winks’ Game of Two Halves

On the subject of sideways and backwards passing, in the first half young Master Winks did not miss many opportunities to swivel back towards home and roll the ball thither.

On occasion, this is certainly no bad thing, but against a Newcastle team both devoid of ideas and pretty lacking in talent this seemed pretty heavy stuff, and unnecessarily so. If Lo Celso’s instinct was always first to seek a forward pass, Winks’ was the opposite, as if created as the precise genetic inverse. It grated.

In Winks’ defence, one cannot fault his energy levels. If a man in lilywhite needed a chum within ten yards, Winks was doing the neighbourly thing. If the ball fell loose, Winks was the one racing in to pick up the scraps. It simply appeared, particularly in the first half, that he was misjudging the mood of the occasion, and adopting a safety-first approach when there was not a whiff of danger within a mile of the place.

Mercifully, whatever pleasantries were exchanged at half-time had a pretty positive effect, and in the second half young Winks emerged with a far more positive take on life. He did not dwell on the ball, nor did he attempt the outrageous, yet simply by playing simple, forward passes he increased the general fluency of the spectacle, and the world seemed a better place for it.

3. Ndombele’s Cameo

A topic of chatter amongst the thinkers of N17 is how both Lo Celso and Ndombele might be accommodated in the same team. At present, with Jose preferring two deeper-lying midfielders, it appears that only one or other can get the gig in the more advanced position.

While very different fish, both Lo Celso and Ndombele appear most effective when granted the licence to wander forward and do their damnedest. Lo Celso’s is a more energetic form of linking attacking and midfield, but Ndombele again showed, in his fifteen or so minutes, that his boots are made of pretty silken stuff.

If opportunity allows for a quick pass Ndombele does not hang around for the formalities, and it is potentially game-changing fare. His cute first-timers visibly rattle the opposing defence, and help create gaps that the mere mortal does not necessarily spot on an initial cursory glance.

Over the coming week, the fixture-list suggests that it will be one or t’other, with two defensive midfielders positioned behind them for solidarity; but in the longer-term one wonders whether Jose might ink his forearm, dye his hair blue and include both Lo Celso and Ndombele in the same eleven, while filming the whole thing on his phone and posting it on social media.

4. Kane Dropping Deep – The Future?

While the cute, eye-of-the-needle passes were the preserve of Messrs Lo Celso and Ndombele, Harry Kane continues to make his case for ultimately becoming Creator-in-Chief of this mob.

I’m not sure anyone in the squad can rival him for big, booming crossfield passes onto the very toe of a teammate, and as the last couple of games have illustrated, his vision and weight of passes typically leave his striking partner with little option but to roll the ball into the net.

One senses from his warblings over the last year that the coming 12 months are fairly critical to him, but should we retain his services in the longer-term, a future might beckon for him in a deeper, number 10 role – andI’m not sure many in the game would be better equipped for it.

5. Handball Rot

And so this dreary slab of nonsense. If, like AANP, you rather enjoying wiling away a couple of hours with the pleasures of an all-no-plot film, you may be familiar with that moment of oddly perfect calm displayed by a sort who realises he’s about to go the way of all flesh and pronto.

Andy Garcia in Black Rain, as an example, was pattering about the place trying to solve several of the world’s ills, until a chap with what appeared to be a samurai sword, of all the dashed things, made a beeline for him. And at that point Andy Garcia, realising his race was run, appeared entirely at peace with things and rather philosophically just accepted it (and promptly had his stem separated from its moorings).

I mention this because it was with that same philosophical calm that AANP exhaled, once the VAR routine kicked off in minute 90+5, and accepted that things were going to end badly. Where Jose stomped off, and Eric Dier presumably screamed out more choice expletives as loudly as comically possible in an empty, microphoned stadium, my sentiment was more along the Andy Garcia lines of “Well I can see where this is going, and there’s not a bally thing I can do about, so might as well just accept it.”

If you’ve toddled this way hoping for some fresh and original pearls on the matter I’m afraid that – much like Andy Garcia, and indeed Jose, Dier et al – you’re bang out of luck. The AANP sentiments are in common with most others. To summarise: the current handball law is a rummy one.

Some have grumbled that the referees ought to exercise common sense, but I’m not having that – if the rules are in place let’s at least apply them consistently so that everyone knows where they stand. I’ll happily throw a blunt object at anyone who argues otherwise on that one.

However, there are a couple of pointers I would lob into the mix. One is that the handball rule is apparently supposed to take into account the distance the ball travels before it reaches the offending limb. While, admittedly, I was not privy to the whisperings between officials as the decision was made, it seems a safe bet that on the issue of ‘Distance Travelled by Ball’ precious little dialogue was exchanged.

The other grumble from AANP Towers is that the award of the free-kick which led to the whole fandango was rummy in the extreme. Watch again and it rather appears that the Newcastle player in question plays a pass and then hurls his body headlong into Hojbjerg – for which curious sequence of events he is awarded a free-kick.

None of it counts for a great deal now, of course, but when the numbers are racked up at the end of the season, should we fall two points short of something exciting I wonder if we might look back on this afternoon and roll out some of Eric Dier’s most choice observations.

Newcastle 1-3 Spurs: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. Tactics (And The Great Jose-AANP Stand-Off)

I’m not actually on personal terms with Jose, but I suspect that if our paths were to cross we would hit it off immediately like a couple of the boys – jesting away, opening a bottle of the good stuff, maybe even dabbling in a little of that lockdown Spanish I’ve been aprend-ing as it’s a tongue Jose has no doubt mastered. One would not be able to hear one’s own thoughts for all the bonhomie about the place.

However, once conversation turned to the little matter of Jose’s Tactics At N17, I cannot help but think that the music would stop, the room would fall silent and a pretty sinister air would descend, and sharpish. Any knives about the place would be busily employed in cutting the tension.

A win is a win, and two wins in pretty similar fashion have no doubt lifted the gloom. This, I graciously grant him. There was much to admire about the energy and attitude of the players against that ‘orrible lot from Woolwich – and frankly one got the sense that, albeit with a tweak in formation and a little less fraught in general, the formula employed last night was of the Rinse-And-Repeat variety. Our lot politely nudged the initiative back to Newcastle, kept them at arm’s length and then, having floated butterfly-like while Newcastle huffed and puffed, stung them like a whole squadron of bees when opportunity arose.

Back to the meeting of minds in the smoking room, and while Jose would no doubt rattle off a few truths about the upturn in results, tension would remain – as is no doubt common in the meeting of two such esteemed footballing minds – as AANP would insist that our lot did not create enough pretty patterns.

This remains a sticking point at AANP Towers. I’m not sure of the collective noun for debacles, but this nameless entity appeared in all its glory during the course of the Sheffield United, Everton and Bournemouth games (even though we won one of them), representing some of the worst football we’ve seen over the years. Things have undoubtedly improved since, and there is now at least a strategy in place – but the chap calling the numbers last night stated at one point that Newcastle average around thirty-something percent possession per game, and yet we seemed happy to let them have as much of the ball as they pleased!

Our strategy – Jose’s strategy – still seems to be one of sitting back and countering. There are lies, and damn lies, and whatnot, and the stats apparently indicate that since taking the reins Jose has the fourth or fifth best record in the division – but the evidence of our eyes is that this is not entertaining stuff. Nor is there much to suggest that this will change in the new season. In any future social engagements between Jose and AANP, a frosty atmosphere will remain.

2. Lucas Eats His Spinach Again

The tactics might not have met with the sort of thunderous applause within AANP Towers that makes its foundations quiver, but I had approving looks that I was dishing about the place with gay abandon for the personnel involved.

‘Sore Limbs’ was no doubt the headline about the place following Sunday’s exertions, but the same starting eleven took to the field and did as instructed, to solid effect.

As on Sunday, Lucas set the early tone, displaying energy both in possession and in tracking back. His little twinkle-toed dribbles, while rarely amounting to much, did nevertheless quicken the pulse and keep the Newcastle lot honest, and much of the success of the 4-3-3-cum-4-5-1 was due to the workrate of he and Sonny around its boundaries.

3. Kane’s All-Rounding

Before his goals, Harry Kane had been tossed little more than an occasional scrap in the penalty area, so he naturally enough came sniffing around in midfield to see what was on offer, and not for the first time gave the impression of being the pick of the midfield bunch, even though the smallprint prevents this from being legally correct.

It might be to do with the fact that collecting the ball when coming from attack – à la Teddy – gives a greater awareness of options than when advancing from defence, but whatever the reasons, I feel like I could pour myself a splash and spend hours on end watching Kane pick up the ball from deep and spray it around the place.

On top of which, he then scored two goals that could immediately be stamped as ‘No Nonsense’, made to look pretty straightforward despite both being far from. Such is the talent of the chap.

4. Winks: Good, In His Limited Way

Further south, young Winks was as neat and tidy as his haircut demands. Forever sprinting to make himself available for passes, with all the gay vivacity of youth, he then typically bipped a quick pass to a nearby chum and repeated the process from the top.

Put yourself in the shoes of any of the back four or midfield sorts, and one suspects you’d be pretty glad that whenever you received the ball you’d always spot a Winks-shaped blur of movement in the corner of your eye, availing himself for service.

This being AANP however – now officially graduated to middle-aged grump, since Covid began – I cannot simply enjoy this good news with a joyous skip in a nearby meadow. Winks, in his breakthrough seasons had the potential of a lad who might have a pass in his pocket reminiscent of those great lock-pickers of recent years. Where Carrick, Hudd and Modric once cut through great swathes with one well-identified killer ball, Winks, one hoped, would follow.

Alas, the whelp seems not to dare play a pass if it carries a jot of risk. One understands, but as he is hardly a defensive enforcer either, it means that even when near his best – as I fancied he was yesterday – although a useful sort to have about the place he flits between being one thing and another, fulfilling the key requirements of neither.

Those yearning for Winks to evolve into a Carrick, Hudd or Modric will be disappointed. Winks has value, and yesterday I thought he was possibly the pick of the bunch, but I suspect this is as good as he will get and as much as he will offer.

5. Lamela And The Impact Subs

It was a big day for impact subs, which I suppose we ought to have foreseen given the short turnaround between games.

It turns out that young Bergwijn had one of his less glorious cameos, when one sits down and actually counts all the beans, but one cannot help but be enthused by what he brings in general, and yesterday he delivered the sort of cross (for Kane’s first goal) that I suspect few of us realised he had in his repertoire.

And then there’s Lamela. Quite the curio this chap. Plainly capable of reaching outrageous heights, when signed there was a murmur that he would become for us essentially what Mo Salah became for Liverpool, even though we signed him before Mo Salah became Mo Salah for Liverpool – which does make the head swim a bit.

The gist is that hopes were high. Fast forward six or seven years, and every Lamela performance is so similar that bingo cards can be produced allowing the eagle-eyed punter to tick off his contributions.

A niggly sort, he will undoubtedly hare around and snap at ankles, often in the late fashion that earns reprieves and stern words if not cards, from the resident officiators.

And then there is his on-ball stuff, which typically involves:
A) A promising dribble, segueing into:
B) The realisation that he is still on the ball when several passing opportunities have been and gone, followed by:
C) The roll of watching eyes as one realises that he is still on the ball, having taken half a dozen touches more than were necessary, but is now being swarmed upon and crowded out.

Add to this the fact that he will roll his foot over the ball at every opportunity – even, in defiance of the laws of physics, when passing it – and one can probably yelp “Lamela Bingo!” and claim a small fluffy toy.

But like a broken clock a couple of times a day, the chap does strike oil, and just as it seemed that his latest dribble was about to result in that swarmed-upon-and-crowded-out routine (C, above), he somehow step-overed his way to freedom and teed himself up for a shot. Quite how he did so is still being investigated, but credit where due, it was pretty special stuff. A shame he could not apply the coup de grâce himself, but it resulted in a goal nevertheless.

Spurs 0-1 Newcastle: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. Shift The Ball Quicker For Heaven’s Sake

On the bright side, anyone who missed that dreadful dirge need not waste a couple of hours of their life, as they can simply cast their minds back to approximately umpteen games at home to similarly lowly opposition, and recall how we pass ineffectually and without urgency, sideways and sideways – and then sideways again.

It is tempting to bellow – or silently weep – for a player with a smidgeon of creativity and élan, but the yearning in the AANP heart was more for quick release of the ball. (At this point I might as well hark back to any one of several dozen witterings on previous matches, and highlight the relevant passage, as it’s a drum I’ve banged pretty relentlessly since 1981.)

Quick one- or two-touch passing can at least keep an opposition on their toes, even if it is just a one-two of the sideways variety. Alas, our heroes today seemed utterly stymied by things, each man dwelling on the ball for several touches before shifting the ball sideways and keeping fingers firmly crossed that, buck having been passed, some other bright spark might provide a moment of inspiration.

Some nerdy soul somewhere presumably tallies up the number of one-touch passes made, but the naked eye suggests there weren’t many (precious few early crosses either, although that’s a rant for another day). What the devil is the point of those rondos they practice so regularly? Ping the ball quickly back and forth and one would imagine the opposition will leave something unlocked; dwell on the ball for several touches and they pretty much drop anchor in a given spot and watch events unfold in front of them.

2. Lamela, Son and Lucas

As quick, slick passing was off the menu (and early crosses were a pretty alien concept, despite the panic they caused when flung in) the onus fell upon the attacking triumvirate to get their heads down and start carving open Newcastle.

No shortage of perspiration, and if God loves a trier the Almighty must absolutely adore those three. Alas, they generally resembled clones of each other, trying the same tricks to tap-dance their way through massed ranks of orange shirts, and with the same level of success (or lack thereof).

One understands the pre-match thinking of Our Glorious Leader, for the likely pattern of things was pretty predictable stuff, so cramming in all three of the chaps famed for their nifty footwork seemed the right way to go about things. “Dribblers can unlock defences,” seemingly being the catchphrase of choice as teamsheets were completed.

But not one of them found a square inch of space, and whichever of the three tried his hand it was all a bit repetitive.

The introduction of Eriksen offered something a little different, as he seemed the only chap out there willing to try slicing open Newcastle with a pass – which does reflect the fact that he’s probably the only one able. Maybe had he benefited from a full 90 minutes’ worth he would have found that one magic pass – but Newcastle were so dashed compact I still personally bob back to my quick-short-passing argument.

3. The Limitations of Winks

A seasoned favourite of AANP he undoubtedly is, but Winks’ limitations in games of this sort were pretty openly paraded this afternoon.

When it comes to keeping possession ticking over he’s one of the first names on the list, but today was one for creative spark and a dash of ingenuity. Alas, the voices in Winks’ head fairly evidently whisper “Sidways!” or “Backwards!” and precious little else, because the most creative the young eel gets is to spread play out to the full-backs so that we can all watch them dally before buck-passing further.

While he doesn’t mind getting stuck in, in the rather quaint manner of a young pup scampering around the legs of a beast literally twice his size, Winks cannot really be labelled a Defensive Sort by any right-minded observer, and he is about as risk-averse as they come it is a stretch to call him An Attacking Force either. His raison d’être seems to be simply to protect possession.

As such, he’s arguably more use in games against bigger and better opponents, when ball retention is pretty key and an opposing defensive camp is less of an issue. In games against mid- to lower-table opposition, Winks’ contributions lie somewhere between Impotent and Utterly Redundant on the spectrum of things.

4. Lo Celso-Watch

This was also our first glimpse of the much-heralded – and often mispronounced – Lo Celso, and it was rather a shame that circumstances dictated that all eyes swung towards him with pretty feverish expectation as he made his bow.

It might have been gentler on the young bean to have been rolled on with a 3-0 lead in the bag so that he could enjoy himself with few cares in the world, but this being us we were desperate for a goal and therefore implored him to be the second incarnation of Maradona as soon as he set his size eights on the hallowed greenery.

Unfortunately, if unsurprisingly, it was fairly nondescript stuff. Few will judge him on this, nor should they, but for what it was worth he simply trotted out an impression of everyone else in midfield – scurrying hither and thither, and pretty eager not to take any risks, heaven forbid.

The young soul’s reputation suggests he will deliver some half-decent things; as with Monsieur Ndombele we may be forced into the outrageous act of showing him some patience.

5. KWP-Watch

Another thought-provoking contribution from young Walker-Peters. It’s rather difficult to know what to make of the fellow. He beavers away, usually to good effect, but without producing any of the sort of stuff that will earn thunderous acclaim.

Defensively, his scurrying tends to do the job – except for when it doesn’t. The occasional stark error lurks deep within his soul. One is inclined to forgive that, because at this early stage of his career it’s probably better to encourage than crucify him, and because those errors are not too frequent or calamitous. Yet.

And going forward, he similarly tends to do more right than wrong, in a safety-first sort of way.

There is something rather limited about him though. He seems to play as if taking very literally whatever pre-match instructions as he’s been passed, and as if acutely aware of his own limitations. It all means he comes across as a player who gets a 6 out of 10 for natural ability, but a firm 9 or so for effort.

At one stage he cantered forward, drifting infield and cutting back out, carrying the ball for a good 20 yards while Newcastle backed him off – but at no stage did the onlooker feel inspired with the confidence that here was a man dictating play, and who had decided that the tide in his affairs was to be taken at its flood. Instead he appeared more a newborn lamb taking some initial steps out into the world and finding that, fun though such japes are, it’s better to err on the side of caution.

Maybe he needs more confidence, maybe he needs more games – quite likely a combo of both (and he certainly needs to learn the mystical art of crossing) – but all in all, while he’s steady enough, and at his age is worth a little perserverance, I must confess that I regularly flung my hands skywards and yearned for Trippier to toss in an early cross and make the Newcastle back-line earn their wage. Games like today’s will do that to a man.

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Spurs 1-0 Newcastle: Four Tottenham Observations

1. Sonny Saves The Day Again

As will be familiar to those who regularly stop by these parts, the AANP take on the midweek win against Newcastle brought peltings with rotten fruit in the Comments section, for the admittedly reckless decision to omit from the list of the venerated Son Heung-Min.

With that in mind, and given that the lively young bean scored the critical goal yesterday, it seems only right to shower him with all manner of praise.

In truth however, through no particular fault of his own, he was a little muted yesterday. The spirit was as willing as ever, as he buzzed hither and thither, and even when at a standstill his legs appeared slightly blurry with movement. Newcastle, however, had been up all night poring over their homework notes, with the result that they swarmed all over Son like he was a homing beacon, and for much of the game he was crowded out.

Mercifully, the chap is fleet of foot, and it is to his credit that he conjured from pretty much nothing a yard of space yesterday, and did not wait for a second invitation to leather the heck out of the ball.

Having flown around the world twice, and been out on his feet at the conclusion of the Newcastle match, Sonny’s contributions, particularly in the absence of Kane and Dele, have bordered on the super-human, injecting moments of inspiration when we have needed them most.

2. Vertonghen’s Exciting Day Out

Our Glorious Leader sticking to his principle that to play a wing-back in consecutive games would be madness of the highest order, and with Davies still absent injured and young Walker-Peters too dashed right-footed, there was a rare day out on the left flank for AANP’s close chum Jan Vertonghen.

As social experiments go it made for interesting viewing. Nature having decreed that any and all useful output should emanate from the chap’s left stem, he was at least appropriately balanced for left-backery. However, Vertonghen is a man of pretty lengthy proportions, sinewy and elegant, well-designed for tackle and stretch, and not necessarily the obvious pick for lung-busting runs along the flank, with chest thrust and muscles throbbing, a la Danny Rose.

It meant that the fellow did not necessarily look entirely at ease as he set about trying to make a fist of the role, life’s accelerations and bursts not coming entirely naturally to the chap.

Not that his team-mates gave the mildest hang about his travails, for the Player X-to-Vertonghen routine seemed a pretty well-rehearsed one, and pretty swiftly became the option of choice as Newcastle barricaded the various other routes to goal.

To his credit, Vertonghen beavered away as instructed, and while his crosses missed as regularly as they hit, he had a decent amount of joy, and gave our heroes a viable option throughout.

His eventual replacement by Rose nevertheless made sense as we switched to 3-5-2 in the closing stages, Rose being more genetically disposed to go hurtling down the flank. All told, the use of Vertonghen as left-back is probably not going to be nailed on for generations to come as the tactical ploy of choice, but for a random joust against a Newcastle mob set upon deep, deep defence it was at least moderately successful.

3. Llorente’s Impact, Again

Having lambasted Llorente whenever the opportunity has presented itself in recent weeks – and on several occasions when no such opportunity has existed, but the urge has simply become too strong – lovers of irony were in their element yesterday as I bemoaned the unfortunate egg’s absence throughout.

With our lot camped outside the Newcastle box, and the entire Newcastle lot camped within, the case for airborne crosses was pretty compelling, and the stage seemed set for Llorente to peddle his wares. Alas, the pairing of choice was Moura and Son, whose prowess on terra firma is unfortunately not matched by any particular renown in the air. A couple of decent headed chances popped the wrong side of the posts, and by and large we were kept at arms length by the massed ranks of Newcastle bodies.

Not to criticise Poch for this particular call, mind. Llorente has been used on a near-constant basis since Kane’s untimely departure, so there was some sense in rotating him out. And one might opine that the plan actually worked to perfection, given that the chap then set up Son’s goal when he was ultimately introduced.

4. Late Goals When Most Needed

So for the umpteenth time this season our heroes have come up with a late, late goal send us all home with a sentiment somewhere on the scale between relief and buoyancy. Much more of this and folk will start accusing us of having mettle and grit and not bottling our affairs.

More serene, comfortable victories would obviously be preferable, but I must confess to a little thrill at the manner in which we can now enter the final furlong still needing a goal but with an underlying sense that actually we might dashed well go and grab one from somewhere.

We almost certainly will not win a trophy this season, but it appears that another string is being added to the lilywhite bow, as we have now become one of those teams who can eke out goals in the dying embers.

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

Newcastle 1-2 Spurs: Five Lilywhite Observations

1. A Result to Remember Come May ‘19

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

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

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

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

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

2. Vertonghen Gets The AANP Nod

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. Sissoko and Aurier – Plus ça Change

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

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

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

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

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

5. Frustrations of Lucas & Son

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spurs 1-2 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.

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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.

Spurs 2-1 Newcastle: Brief & Tardy Musings

Seasoned visitors to the AANP abode will be well aware that in these parts we tend not to commend the team on a jolly well-earned and impressive win against one of the country’s form teams if we can have a grumble instead.

For all the quite stunning bravado of our resident half-man half-deity, our heroes did again lack some of the whoops-poop-twiddly-dee that had been the hallmark of recent years, if you excuse the over-technical jargon. The AVB mission will need time, and our heroes have become bizarrely consistent team these days, but until Bale (or, to give him his dues, Lennon) clears his throat, spits on his hands and takes off on a gallop there is little of that fizzing one-touch stuff to get the pulse racing – or the opposition quivering.

All rather harsh however, for this was one of our finer moments. In years (or even weeks) gone by, a meaty to-do against opponents of this nature would have brought us no more than a point. Look closely at the platform from which Bale burst forth and you will note that it is constructed from the finest mix of lilywhite blood, sweat and tears.

And on a valedictory note – the boy Bale might just have a future in this football malarkey, what?

Spurs – Newcastle Preview: The Latest Big Selection Dilemma

It’s that time of the week once more – AVB’s latest Big Selection Dilemma is upon us. The gravel-voiced one has shown with Lloris and Benny that he is something of a tease when it comes to awarding regular starting berths, but Holtby-time presumably now beckons. It may have only been two substitute appearances against middling opposition, but the lad has already proved himself as good as Pele, Mandela and that Matrix chap combined, so one hopes he manages to oust Dempsey from the starting XI.

The only certainty is that Defoe is out, so AVB will be donning a blindfold and sticking pins upon one or two from Holtby, Adebayor, Dempsey and possibly even Bale. A similar approach will presumably be used at the back, but marvellous news reaches these parts that Monsieur Kaboul is about to resume training.

As for the opposition, a fiendishly deceiving basket of wriggly elks if ever I beheld one. Be not fooled, ye lilywhites, by Newcastle’s laughably low rung on the ladder, this lot just trumped the European Champions no less. A whiff of garlic and fromage now emanates from the black and white corner, and Newcastle’s newly-acquired French clan appear to know their way around a pitch, so a challenge et un demi is to be expected. Still, our lot tend always to snatch at least a point these days, and on home turf, against a team not resolutely set on defending for their lives, we ought to have enough about us for all three.

Newcastle 2-1 Spurs: That Familiar Gloomy Hue

Ah, gloomy hue of disappointment, how I’ve missed thee. After the dashed unfairness that was Chelski pilfering our Champions League spot with the final act of last season, a couple of months on and our heroes were straight back in the groove, slinking off home with nothing but empty hands and slightly hurt expressions, when they deserved to hold aloft the carcass of a freshly captured point. Merrily, smatterings of cautious optimism can still be detected if one squints a little and tilts the head sideways. The 4-2-3-1 rather forces our heroes to trot hither and thither, and the end result seems to be a healthy degree of off-the-ball movement and various options for the man in possession. The midfield five (for want of a better collective noun) seemed pretty happy with life in their respective roles, and galling though both conceded goals were, we were hardly scythed to pieces by the Geordie mob. Indeed, a couple of minor adjustments of the radar might have had us wandering in a half-time with a two goal lead to throw away – although as my old man the venerable AANP senior is always quick to point out, they only deserve credit for hitting the woodwork if they were aiming for it (and that would betray a slightly rummy approach to the game, what?)

 

That said, there was of course plenty to satiate the doom-mongers in our party. Defoe fought the good fight jolly well, but six foot three and fourteen stone he most decidedly isn’t, which leaves Daniel Levy 11 days to thumb through his wallet or start intravenously injecting Defoe with spinach and oily fish to turn him into some sort of Drogba reboot.

Messrs Lennon and VDV made a solid joint effort for this season’s prestigious Softest, Most-Ill-Advised, Worst-Timed, Never-Going-To-Get-The-Ball tackle, although my Spurs supporting chum Ian later opined that their clumsy clanking had begun outside the area. All rather moot now, one might sniff.

AVB’s Choices of PersonnelYoung AVB will presumably spit out his dummy and bawl for a lollipop unless AANP affords him some column inches, so I oblige by questioning a couple of selections – notably the choice of Gallas ahead of Vertonghen. His prerogative, and Gallas performed steadily enough – I would just be interested to hear the rationale.

 

Elsewhere, the omission from the entire matchday squad of Hudd bodes ill and leaves me awfully concerned. AVB has some history of ostracising folk, and given that our new formation allows for a ball-playing central midfielder or two it would be a dashed shame if a rope were tied around the significant frame of Hudd and three burly chaps from the nearest building site were tasked with slowly hauling him out of the doors and along the High Road before slapping a note on him that read “FAO Martin Jol”.

Neither was Daws anywhere to be found. Injured, does anyone know? In truth, loveable and huggable though he may be, Daws has never quite been the very embodiment of reliability, but this was again, nevertheless, an eyebrow-raising call.

The Long GameRumour has it that Season 2012/13 will be, in common with every single one of its predecessors, a marathon rather than a sprint. This accords rather neatly with the AVB era, which does appear to be something of a long-term project. As such, issues such as supplementing the forward line and bundling Modders out of the exit will eventually be resolved, and the Top 4 may or may not be on the agenda this season, but in the longer term one can begin to see the blurry outline of a plan.

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