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Spurs match reports

Spurs 3-1 Forest: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. A Pretty Discombobulating Plot

If your route home from N17 yesterday evening was one of those ruminative ones then I can pop a comforting arm around your shoulders, remove the arm to pop a hand on the Bible in order to swear that I’m telling the truth, pop the arm back around your shoulders and assure you that you’re not alone. AANP, too, was thrown off kilter by the meandering and complex path our heroes took to their three points.

From the pretty comfortable opening, to the quite possibly complacent period leading up to half-time, to the sudden burst of second half inspiration, to the finale that neatly evaded any type of description altogether, the old grey matter just couldn’t fathom it out. It was like one of those dubious, award-winning foreign films one sometimes stumbles across, in which the plot leaps between genres and the characters change identities halfway through. In short, if anyone professed to knowing what was going on, they should blush with shame for the untruths they told.

Taking it chronologically, we started with admirable spunk. Forest provided a polite reminder that they are now a Nuno team, by pulling every available limb back into their own penalty area and daring us to make the game interesting. Admittedly the greatest chances of success came when we actually lost possession, prompting them to commit one or two bodies forward – at which point our lot cunningly won the ball back and had a fresh dart, but with fewer opposing limbs to negotiate.

All a bit convoluted, but the move with which we opened the scoring was pleasingly sharp, featuring quick passing in midfield and another of those moments in which Timo Werner’s undoubtedly good intentions actually manifested as a useful end product.

Thereafter, as was suggested by my Spurs-supporting chum Dave, our lot rather swanned around with the air of a regiment who were three goals up and drinking in the accolades, rather than a team that still had a good hour of elbow-grease ahead of them to ensure that the points were safe.

But for some unnecessarily wild flaying at the ball by that Chris Wood bimbo, we might have been in a spot of bother come the midway switcharound. I’d still have expected us to unearth a win from somewhere, but in that first half we were adding layer upon layer of complication to things, and unnecessarily so.

Even graver issues might have arisen if the arbiters of such irresponsible behaviour had cast a less generous eye upon James Maddison’s right to self-defence upon provocation. Whatever he did may have amounted to little more than pat on the tummy and some eye-catching amateur dramatics from the lad on the other side of the court, but if Maddison clenched his hand into a fist – and I’ll be dashed if the visual evidence clarifies things one way or t’other on that count – then he could have had few complaints about being ejected from the premises (as would have been the case for the other lad too, by the by).

Conventional wisdom has it that the introductions of Messrs Hojbjerg and Bentancur made the vital difference after half-time, and I suppose one can broadly go along with that, although I struggle to recall the specific good deeds demonstrated by either. Hojbjerg I did notice mopping things up in midfield, generally ensuring that if one of our attacks faltered and Forest tried to escape the shackles, he was on hand to pilfer possession straight back from them and set the lilywhite machine in motion once again. While others will presumably differ, I maintain it would be a stretch to say that either he or Bentancur bossed things, but we certainly had a bit more control with those two hovering about the place, so if one wants to fete the pair of them then they have my blessing (even if Hojbjerg did then try to undo his hard work by gifting Forest a couple of suicidal passes in the final knockings).

A purple patch briefly ensued, in which gaps appeared in the Forest setup and our lot pulled that old trick of nabbing a couple of quick goals before anyone had a chance to register what was happening, thereby changing the entire complexion of the game; and thereafter the final twenty or so passed pretty serenely, which as a lifelong Spurs fan used to the bedlam of a panicked finale, is always accepted gratefully but rather suspiciously.

So a satisfactory enough outcome, but by golly the convoluted plot was difficult to follow.

2. Werner

There are some of lilywhite persuasion who insist that Werner is a marvellous attacking asset; and others (known to have included amongst their number yours truly) who qualify this by suggesting that his outputs are a little predictable – and his finishing in Chris Wood territory – which I suppose means that the truth lies somewhere in between.

One could argue that the proof of the pudding is in his beating of a right-back and firing in a low cross that someone or other contrives to prod in, and he did that twice yesterday, albeit the second drew a point-blank save that rather upsets the narrative.

Now a pretty stirring argument could be made for the value of a winger who can lay at least one and possibly two goals on a plate per game, even if he spends the remaining 89 minutes idly inspecting the stands and whistling the theme tunes of cartoons from his homeland. The creation of two goals per game, the argument would continue, is a marvellous effort, irrespective of whatever else he might or might not contribute.

And yet, I do find myself emanating all manner of dissatisfied grunts and tuts when I watch the chap in action. I suppose it’s because for every one successful foray down the left, I do feel that we have to accept at four aborted (or otherwise ineffective) efforts, whether he sticks to the outside or tries his luck infield. I quite possibly do him a disservice – I certainly haven’t been keeping count of his efforts – but some sort of nameless frustration gnaws away, suggesting that he might utilise his talents just a mite more handsomely.

All that said, at £15m, he would be a solid squad member next season, quite the laddie for rotation and inspiring cameos. Nevertheless, I would hope that we throw four or five times that amount on a wide player upon whose forehead one can slap a post-it note on which is scribbled the word ‘Elite’, and who might usurp young Werner from the Starting XI.

3. Udogie

To err is human, what? Most weeks it is a pretty safe bet that when adjudicating the quality of the offerings on show, one reserves a particular word of praise for Destiny Udogie, making a point of emphasising how toothsome he was in reverse as well as on the front-foot. Commonly the driving force behind any left-of-centre surge over halfway, he is also generally an impressive barrel of meat and sinew when haring back into the conventional left-back spot.

Yesterday, however, he had a bit of a stinker. Most obviously, his dereliction of duty as Forest piled forward for their goal was a tricky one to excuse. Rather awkward, no, catching the golden boy red-handed? And yet there he was, clear as day, hand in the cookie jar, so to speak. The Forest fellow motored up alongside him and off towards the area, and young Udogie slowed to a halt and almost visibly shrugged. Difficult to fathom what went through his mind at that point, but ‘Chase the blighter’ it most certainly wasn’t.

Such things happen however, and while he had a slightly dreary time of it in other respects yesterday as well, by and large one can rely upon him, as well as VDV and Vicario, to prompt the approving nod. All things considered it is a stroke of luck that his dies horribilis happened on a day on which we crossed the finish line ahead and at a canter.

4. Our Goals

For all the mistakes and off-moments there were some pretty rip-roaring goals to wrap the thing up.

I was particularly glad for young Pedro Porro, as he never wants for enthusiasm when it comes to having a ping from the edge of the area, and he generally misses by not more than two or three whiskers. “One of these days,” I tend to mutter with a wry smile, as he goes through his curious post-miss routine of scratching his head like a man possessed and contorting his face into all manner of anguished expressions – also like a man possessed, truth be told.

Being blessed with the technique of a man who ought to earn a living in the more glamorous part of the pitch, it was particularly pleasing to see him catch a high volley sweetly enough to fly off into the top corner. Apparently the thing came off his shin, which does spoil an otherwise pleasingly thrill-packed little tale, but it hardly detracted from the aesthetic value, which is what really matters.

As for young Van de Ven, I have to confess to being most taken aback by his finish, travelling as it did with the velocity of an Exocet. ‘Who would have thought the young man to have had so much power in his left clog?’ was the refrain echoing around the place as we drank in the replays, for he certainly packed a bit of feeling into that effort.

As well he did too, for if he had joined the seemingly endless list of cast members overcome with a sense of altruism that inclined them to wave away the opportunity of a shot, and instead pass sideways for someone else, I do rather fear a vein in my temple might have exploded. One appreciates that sometimes the ball is received at an awkward angle or pace or whatever, but really the obsession with refusing to shoot when inside the area had far exceeded the realms of decency. Full marks then, to both Messrs Porro and VDV for straightening their priorities and swinging a leg like there was no tomorrow.

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Spurs news, rants

Conte, Potter and Spurs’ Strategy & Identity: 3 Tottenham Talking Points

1. What’s The Long-Term Strategy?

As part of the day-job, AANP can often be found swanning around town claiming to help create strategies of all things, for individuals and organisations gullible enough to lap up this sort of thing. In truth, this typically involves asking such folk where they want to end up, in the long-ish term; charging them the earth for the privilege; and then decamping to the nearest bar to knock back a splash or two of something stiff and rattle on about the glory days.

I mention this because as I watch on from my perch, it’s increasingly difficult to fathom what the hell is the strategy (there’s that word again) at Spurs. And for clarity, I mean football strategy, rather than the ‘Make More Money’ approach so earnestly peddled by D. Levy Esq. every waking minute in our shiny new bowl.

Under Poch, a strategy of sorts could be detected. Press high up the pitch; scamper around pretty indefatigably; attack; and develop the younglings – these seemed broadly to number amongst the key factors. It helped create an identity about the place and aligned with the traditions of the estate, so to speak.

It did of course help that we generally won a heap more than we lost, but by and large we the honest punters were pretty happy with how things panned out each week.

Fast forward to the final days of Poch, and more specifically the aftermath, and if you were to wonder what the devil the overall masterplan was then I’d shake you by the hand and suggest you’d hit the nail pretty squarely on the head.

In short, once Poch was out the door and wandering the streets of N17, any semblance of a broad strategy and long-term aim went with him.

The appointment of Jose? Put charitably, the strategy here seemed to be ‘Win Something Shiny’, with the parenthesised addendum ‘In Whatever Manner Necessary’. Less charitably, it seemed to be an opportunity for Levy to buy himself a long-coveted toy. There was no regard for style of play, and no consideration to the longer-term consequences – either in terms of playing style, or, crucially, the potential fall-outs and internal rifts for which Jose had become pretty famous.

Once that experiment ended, even the long-ish shortlist of would-be paramours this summer gave little hint of an obvious strategy in place post-Jose. If a specific style or identity had been identified, a common thread would have run through all the half-dozen or so managers courted. I suppose in Ten Haag and Poch Mk II there was a similarity, but Conte and Gattuso seemed cut from pretty different cloth.

The eventual decision to plump for Nuno, while essentially born of desperation and the realisation that if we started the season with nobody in charge we would look pretty comical, again gave little consideration to the identity of the club. In a sense, this was more understandable, because by that stage we needed simply to hire anyone who would take the damned gig – and when necessity comes calling, strategy is generally shoved out the door without so much as a ‘Cheerio’.

2. Conte

But with Nuno now bundled off into the sunset, and the chase on for Conte, the question that springs to mind is again the one being mumbled when Poch was axed – viz. what’s the strategy here? Or, put in another couple of ways, what’s the long-term goal? What’s the intended identity of the club?

There seems to be much of the short-term solution about the current pursuit of Conte. This is not just a reference to the supposed 18-month contract, but more pressingly to the fact that he historically does not care too much about long-term planning when creating his teams, and certainly not when ostracising players the cut of whose jib does not tickle him.

In a sense, this is actually understandable enough, and one sympathises. Our lot are in the dickens of a spot, and this is no time to entrust young Mason or whomever with 18 months to learn on the job. Making a beeline for the most qualified sort currently available is, one could persuasively argue, a no-brainer.

And if Conte hauls our mob up by the bootlaces, and drags us kicking, screaming and minus a few rotten eggs into the European spots come May, Levy will understandably beam from East stand to West.

Put another way, the pile of steaming dung is now so sizeable that consideration of long-term strategy, and identity and whatnot, ought to be placed on hold for a couple of years, while the club simply arrests its decline.

And as indicated, this is understandable enough. For the record, AANP still rather furrows the brow at it, but one has the decency to appreciate the logic.

Nevertheless, were I pulling the strings of this particular puppet-show, the next appointment would be one that gives greater consideration to the style of play and, more importantly, the broader identity of the club.

I can hardly claim to be an expert on Conte’s tactics, but from what I’ve seen and, more pertinently, from what Chelsea-supporting eggs have informed me, he likes a solid defence and a counter-attack. Not necessarily the ultra-defensive type that many have proclaimed, but equally not a fellow on whom one can necessarily hang their attacking hat.

3. Potter

As such, AANP’s covetous stare (presuming that Poch is still otherwise engaged for at least another 18 months) is directed towards Graham Potter. Having seen our lot spiral disastrously downward I’ve taken the opportunity in recent weeks to study Brighton, and bearing in mind that their individual players are hardly of the ‘Seasoned International’ ilk that we boast, I’ve been mightily impressed with the way in which they earn their weekly wage.

Most notably, when they attack they do so swiftly, their football featuring no end of early passes and off-the-ball movement. Rather than receiving the ball and pivoting back towards defence like there’s a prize on offer for whomever can do it most regularly, they show a spot of bravery and attempt to play forward. Most eye-catchingly, to repeat, they play quickly, with one- and two-touch football, the sort of stuff for which I currently yearn at Spurs. And this against teams including Liverpool and Man City, mind.

The lad Bissouma is generally on sentry duty in front of the back-line, and the full-backs seem to have no qualms about charging north to aid and abet things – but without getting bogged down in the specifics, they seem to have an identity and an attractive style about them.

And for that reason, I’ve thrown my hat in with Team Potter. I imagine he would not just attempt to create an attractive style of play, but he’d lay a foundation that would bring with it a longer-term identity.

(To the practical objection of prising him away from a project with which he’s presumably perfectly happy at present, I counter that apparently £15m is being waved at Conte, and whether or not that’s true, the principle, I would suggest, remains that if Levy were set on him he’d be able to throw enough money at the thing to effect it. Might not work with PSG, really ought to work with Brighton.)

Of course, there would be no guarantee of success, and one could reasonably point out that Potter has not won a damn thing in England as yet; point out that he took a hammering in the Man City game I’m using to showcase his supposed talents; point out that he’s yet to manage players as high-profile as ours; and no doubt trot out a string of further objections, each of which would probably be pretty difficult to counter.

But, having been observing from AANP Towers all day as this whole spectacle has unfolded, I thought I’d lob in my tuppence worth – and most specifically hammer home the point that the identity of our club has disappeared within the raft of short-termist appointments, and – while, as ever, I’ll back him to the hilt once in situ – the cueing up of Conte would do little to change this.

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Spurs match reports

Spurs 0-3 Man Utd: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Ben Davies

I suppose some liberal sorts might argue that it’s a little harsh to single out individuals for castigation after a collective performance as insipid as that. They would have a point of course, as pretty much all eleven selected delivered incompetence by the bucketload, but Ben Davies stood out for punctuating his usual mind-numbing mediocrity with a couple of errors that were notably costly.

That business of him losing both his man and his bearings in the moments immediately preceding the opening goal had a ghastly quality to them, the whole episode seeming to unfold in slow-motion and with a gloomy sense of inevitability about it. Even as the ball looped towards those concerned, it seemed as likely that Davies would take this manageable situation and mangle the dickens out of it, as that Ronaldo would take what was at that stage still a pretty challenging situation and turn it into a goal of serene beauty.

And both principals played their respective roles to perfection. Given the circumstances (which, lest we overblow this, should not be forgotten were pretty straightforward – a cross was delivered into his sphere of operation, The End) there were only a limited number of ways in which Davies could have made a pig’s ear of the job, so it was pretty impressive that he somehow managed to implement them all, simultaneously.

He completely lost track of the man he was marking (and not just any man, but Cristian Ronaldo for heaven’s sake), which struck me as a cardinal sin, but opportunity for repentance remained; however, he then failed to gauge that the cross was too high for him; and instead of abandoning his attempts to cut out the cross at this point, and focusing all energies on blocking the shot, he then leapt to head the ball, seemingly under the impression that he was actually eight foot nine.

If I saw my nephew pull off a stunt like that on the school field I’d yank him aside for a sharp word or two. To see an experienced, international defender make such a comically bad sequence of decisions had me yearning for something pretty strong to unscrew and swig.

By the time the third goal wafted in most onlookers were more concerned with brandishing pitchforks and baying for blood, but this should not distract from the fact that Davies was once again crucially culpable, he being the buffoon standing a few yards south of the defensive line, thereby keeping Rashford onside. Admittedly the entire back-four was in a state of disrepair by this point (Emerson having appeared at centre-back and Romero at right-back, for some reason), but Davies’ lack of basic common sense cost us.

These were the sort of lapses for which I would howl long and hard at Serge Aurier in the not too distant past, and they are hardly isolated incidents in the Davies tome of infamy. There was a bit of scrutiny on the chap simply for his selection in the first place, and I struggle to recall anything of value he offered in the attacking third. On the tried and tested AANP gauge of ‘Who Would Buy Them?’ if put up for sale today, I honestly doubt whether any Premier League team would take him. He seems a likeable sort of chap, and God apparently loves a trier, but I cannot stomach much more of him in our colours.

2. Lo Celso

In the debit column, one can point to the fact that Lo Celso did not make any mistakes that led directly to goals, which puts him on a more exalted pedestal than Ben Davies and various other associates yesterday, but this hardly prevented the sharpening of knives from all sides.

In recent weeks Monsieur Ndombele has been Number Tenning away for us, and while hardly cutting opposing defences to ribbons he has nevertheless shown in fits and spurts a little ingenuity and fleetness of foot. He pottered around a little deeper than was ideal against West Ham perhaps (albeit presumably under instruction), but by and large appeared to be starting to settle into the role.

The move to replace him yesterday with GLC was therefore a slightly rummy one. By all accounts, Lo Celso produced fairly middling fare when given a similar opportunity vs Burnley in midweek, so it seems hardly the case that he banged down the door and made an irresistible case for inclusion.

And while he was not exactly alone in this category, yesterday Lo Celso essentially offered little of note. Others, peddling their wares elsewhere on the pitch, could probably argue that while they similarly offered little of note, they had nevertheless made a decent fist of things without necessarily grabbing headlines and swanning around the place yelling “Me! Me! Me!”. But Lo Celso, in that central, creative spot is pretty much required by his job description to do precisely that.

And frankly, it’s a dream gig. Young Dele, one imagines, would bite of his own arm and quite possibly a couple of other limbs for the opportunity to fill that role. With fairly limited defensive responsibility, and such luminaries as Sonny, Kane and Lucas flitting in various directions around him, the stage was well set for the chap pretty much to dictate affairs. Somehow, alas, the fellow just never got going.

Previously I have noted, with some bewilderment it must be said, that Lo Celso does not seem to perform unless surrounded by pretty talented sorts, and as such he flatters to deceive when included in our second-string elevens. There was no such get-out for the chap yesterday however – he just failed to deliver any sort of goods.

In fact, the most notable contribution he made during the whole evening was to act as what I believe is known as a lightning rod – the raison d’etre of which was to channel the unfiltered rage and bile of 60,000 irate Spurs fans in a cacophony of abuse – for the assembled masses when he was not substituted, with Lucas instead rather inexplicably getting the hook. Fittingly, Lo Celso’s contribution to that episode was entirely passive, he simply stood and watched as someone else was taken off; yet it might well prove the straw that breaks the back of Nuno’s tenure.

3. Kane

Another day since trying to leave the place, and another performance offering nothing from that rotter Harry Kane.

In his defence, one could hardly suggest he was treated to an all-you-can-eat buffet by his chums in lilywhite. However, his current state of decline was neatly crystallised by that one opportunity for him to sprinkle a little sunshine into our lives in the second half, when he broke on the right but then seemed to trudge through quicksand when all around implored him to break into a sprint, before chipping the ball straight to a United body.

As mentioned, he can hardly be faulted for not being provided much service, but in general since that nonsense over the summer, he has looked like someone feeling who would still rather be elsewhere. One can forgive the chap for not scoring, or even for missing presentable chances when they do come his way (after all, not many angry fists were waved at him when his header against West Ham was saved), but the energy levels and body-language were, again, average at best yesterday.

It’s pretty disappointing stuff from a chappie that people trip over themselves to laud as a ‘model professional’. I hold up my hands and admit to having been happy to join the chorus of those who this summer were calling on the club to dig in their heels and resist selling him. I now rather wish that he and his sullen ways were someone else’s problem, and that we had wasted a large chunk of £120m on at least one over-priced forward to replace him.

4. No Shots on Target

To register no shots on goal across the entire 90 minutes, at home is pretty thick. All the more so coming only a week after hogging the ball, scratching the heads but not laying a punch on the opposition. It does make one hum and tick a bit, and make no mistake, the hills were alive with the sound of humming and ticking yesterday, with the natives registering displeasure at just about every opportunity

I can hardly pretend to be any sort of tactical expert, so it’s naturally a bit rich to lean across from AANP Towers and start hollering advice at those who live and breathe the game, yet at the same time I do sometimes fancy I’d saw off my own right leg just to see our lot shove the ball around a tad quicker. Just a spot of one-touch passing this way and that would make the opposition work up a bit of a sweat and give each other a worried glance or two.

Similarly, making use of a bit of a width going forward would, one hypothesizes, give us a few more teeth in attack – not necessarily to ping in Beckham-esque crosses (although they too would make a pleasant change) but simply to add weight and stretch the opposition, creating some space between them.

One does not have to look far to spot other teams – of lesser players, mind you – creating attacking opportunities simply by virtue of moving the ball in punchier fashion, using one or two touches per player, rather than four or five. Match of the Day was full of it. Brighton were making hay against the much vaunted defence of Liverpool, by virtue of one-touch football – meanwhile our lot gather together for long, ponderous conferences around the centre circle, each player pivoting twice or thrice, and dwelling on the ball for an absolute age.

Some of the various pundits queueing up to give the knife a bit of a twist have muttered about on-field combinations and understanding between players, and harking back one knows the sort of thing they mean – it’s a long time ago but I recall the understanding that gradually developed between Corluka and Lennon on the right, once upon a time, who while pretty odd bedfellows seemed to learn pretty swiftly when the other would stick or twist, to some benefit.

Comparing that to the current lot, it seems that the eleven on the pitch are perfect strangers, with nobody having the faintest clue what anyone else is going to do at any given point. The understanding that once existed between Sonny and Kane seems to have gone the way of all flesh. It would be nice to think that on the training pitch between matches our heroes practise a range of nifty interplays and combos, ready to display to the world each weekend – but on the evidence of yesterday it seems more likely that they all practise in isolation, possibly drilled in the fine art of loitering in possession for an eternity, and not much else.

This is not to suggest that simply popping the ball around faster and shoving the full-backs ten yards up the pitch would solve Tottenham Hotspur, cure Covid and put COP26 to rights – but I imagine it would improve the atmosphere about the place to see either some urgency, some semblance of a plan or both.

By all accounts the guillotine is being given a final spit and polish, and poor old Nuno is pretty soon to be the latest casualty of the Daniel Levy Massacre. He certainly conducts himself with decency by the sackful (which was an absolute gust of fresh air after the poisonous atmosphere of Jose), but he was pretty clearly a bad appointment – unwanted, with no history of attractive or successful football and without an obvious plan. As such, a 3-0 home defeat would make a pretty fitting epitaph.

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Spurs match reports

Arsenal 3-1 Spurs: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Dele

Having lost 3-0 at Palace a couple of weeks ago, and then lost 3-0 at home to Chelsea last week, you might have thought that the familiarity of it all would lessen the blow, and that the response at AANP Towers to yet again going 3-0 down this evening would be to welcome the deficit like an old friend, slapping it on the back and inviting it in for a generous whiskey and a chat about the old times. Not so; in fact, the response at AANP Towers was to damn with a good deal of heartiness the act of going three-nil down and all those involved in its construction.

The vague flutter of life in the final ten minutes did little to disguise that this was as rotten a performance as they come, and gazing with horror at the ruins I did feel like one of those FBI chaps on the telly-box who stares at several dismembered bodies wondering where to begin; but luckily the evidence points to no shortage of culprits, and one of the foremost amongst them is Dele.

Last week, after the dismal second half against Chelsea, I wondered aloud what it is that Dele actually does; and this week, after the dismal first half against Woolwich left me wondering what it is that Dele actually does, sharp as a tack I went a step further and started to ask myself whether some sort of theme was emerging.

Much can be said about the tactical set-up, our 4-3-3 strongly avoiding the offering of either one thing (attack) or another (defence), but as Messrs Ndombele, Hojbjerg and Skipp demonstrated at least in fits and starts, even within this ill-fitting system one can still roll up the sleeves and try to make the best of things.

Dele, however, simply disappeared from sight as soon as proceedings were formally launched. The front six in general seemed determined that their ‘press’ was going to be nominal only, with as few drops of perspiration expended towards this exercise as possible, so I probably ought not to single out the chap for blame in that respect. But if a memo had done the rounds at HQ instructing the midfield sorts to contribute to matters in possession, or avail themselves when it seemed we might have an exploratory wander toward goal, Dele evidently was not privy to such communication.

Nor is this the first game in which he’s drifted in and out of existence. This midfield berth does not suit the lad, and while it might fit an occasional media narrative to suggest that he’s been reinvented as a box-to-box midfielder, the AANP response is to groan a particularly exasperated one and urge whomever the hell is responsible for such things either to shove him up in that role supporting Kane, à la the prime years under Poch, or get him out of the team and pick someone else better suited to whatever system it is we’re trying to peddle.

2. Ndombele

Visitors to social media who are particularly adept at scouring the nooks and crannies might have noted a rare Tweet from the AANP thumbs and forefingers this week, as, continuing that theme of wondering aloud, I put to the world that this Hotspur XI is big enough only for one of Dele or Ndombele; but, crucially, not both.

The rationale being as follows: neither seem to have the required puff in their cheeks or fire in their bellies to knuckle down and put in a solid, non-stop shift of defensive duties.

Now, in a sense, one might ask why the hell should they? And this would be a pretty reasonable retort. After all, one doesn’t ask Hugo to poach goals in the opposition six-yard box. Neither Dele nor Ndombele are the sorts constructed by Mother Nature to spend their days tracking back and winning tackles, so, the argument continues, excuse them from such such rigours as required by a 4-3-3. Both of these are attack-minded souls, so let them attack.

In a sense this is acceptable enough; but it does seem to have the consequence that only one or t’other should be deployed at any given time, as we really don’t have room to let allow one chap after another to be excused from the muckier lines of work. And whichever of these two get the nod really ought to be the attacking fulcrum, the sort of nib through whom all our creative energies through flow.

Frankly, at the moment – and this is a moment now stretching to about a season and a half – Dele is not that attacking fulcrum. As mentioned above, I rather think he ought to be stationed in a supporting role to Kane or not at all.

Ndombele, on the other hand, does like to toss around tantalising hints of being the sort of egg who could make things happen. Oddly, within the disastrous first half, Ndombele somehow managed to engineer the status of ‘Being Fairly Heavily Involved’. These things are relative, of course (his other ten chums being dotted around the place for decorative value only), and contextual (he was involved to the extent that he seemed to attract the ball a fair amount, but make no mistake – all the bright sparks were flying in opposition colours).

Nevertheless, somehow he seemed to be on the ball rather a lot of the ball in the first half. It was all fairly frustrating content, alas, as he simply seemed to poke his head down various cul de sacs before stroking the ball sideways; but at least, unlike Dele, he seemed to be present on the pitch on some physical level. It seemed we were at least graced with someone who was happy enough to take a look at the problem, even if he were slap bang out of workable solutions.

This was certainly not Ndombele’s greatest day, and let’s face it, after two and a bit years I’m not sure how much patience is left in the tank as we wait for his great days to stream forth; but if we are going to pick a fellow in the centre through whom we want attacking operations to be conducted, I would prefer it to be Ndombele than Dele; and given the shortcomings of both on the defensive side of things, I am convinced that we cannot accommodate both (other than against the very weakest sorts).

3. Skipp

On a brighter note, young Skipp took the opportunity of his introduction to remind his more esteemed comrades that a touch of commitment and gusto is still allowed.

Hot on the heels of a couple of crunching midweek tackles on Adama Traore of all people, Skipp did not wait too long before delivering what is fast becoming his trademark, full-body sliding challenge. Indeed, this is one of the few games I have witnessed in which one of the highlights has been to see one of our number pick up a caution, but I applauded the young bean for picking up his, if only because it seemed to suggest that at least someone in lilywhite gave the slightest damn about things.

All of which makes Skipp’s omission from the starting line-up a little bit of a head-scratcher. Wisdom after the event, of course, is a rather irritating trait, so I won’t make a production of this – but I doubt I was alone in wondering at kick-off about the strategic value of picking a midfield heavy on Deles, Ndombeles and Hojbjergs, and decidedly light on Skipps. For this game of all games – against that lot, and in front of their fans – it seemed about as uncontroversial a call as they come to have included from the off the one chap whose eyes light up at the thought of flying in amongst the limbs.

One hardly questions Nuno’s tenure as boss, but a third successive hammering suggests that the time in which he earns his weekly envelope is upon us, and his calls to date have been odd. The strategy has changed each week; 4-3-3 seems ill-fitting; and now the choice of personnel – in picking both Dele and Ndombele, and leaving out Skipp – do little to suggest that here is a General whose plans are fully formed and expertly constructed.

4. Gil

As a final, damning indictment upon those who should know better, the other bright spark from within our regiment came from young Gil, a lad who still looks like he ought to be in bed by 8.

Having been kept on a firm leash during his losing-cause-cameo last week, he had a bit more joy in the l-c-c this time around. Admittedly his end-product missed as much as it hit, but he gave his opponent plenty about which to ponder, and generally scuttled around the place with an energy and willing that, one is disappointed to report, looked pretty out of place compared to his moping, half-hearted seniors.

I was particularly impressed with his energy and speed of thought in sliding in to set up Reguilon, for Son’s goal, a touch that went rather under the radar on the telly-box, but which turned out to be a decidedly nifty pass from a pretty unforgiving starting point.

Had the deflected effort from Lucas (another who at least showed a few glimpses of willing) looped in at the death we might have had an entertaining final minute or two; but this was a defeat absolutely deserved, and I don’t mind suggesting that the whole lot of them ought now to be subjected to some form of brutish public humiliation.

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Spurs match reports

Spurs 0-3 Chelsea: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. RIP Jimmy Greaves

Although too young to have seen him myself, the recollections of my old man, AANP Senior – a man so hard to impress that even the win over Real Madrid a few years back left him commenting gruffly that we should have scored more – are telling. Mention Greaves, and his eyes light up with a rarely-seen, almost childlike excitement, as he describes countless goals scored almost casually, assuring me that there simply was never a goalscorer as good as him.

It’s a claim supported by the numbers, which are so easy to take for granted, but on inspection almost defy belief.

While Dad had the privilege of seeing him week in, week out in the flesh (and meeting him outside the ground on one occasion), and I suspect is not alone in citing him as his all-time favourite player, for a generation of us we knew him through Saturday lunchtime television. Hard then to picture him as a goalscorer extraordinaire, but easy to love him as a personality.

A true Tottenham legend, our greatest goalscorer, arguably the greatest goalscorer of them all. Rest in peace, Jimmy Greaves.

2. First Half Positives

And so to the match itself. By the time the curtain came down we onlookers were slumped in our seats, the players were slumped in their spots and our lot as a collective had slumped a little further down the table – it was a pretty strong evening for slumping all round.

And what makes the whole thing taste that much more bitter is that in the early knockings we had gone about things with such bright-eyed and bushy-tailed vigour and purpose.

Given the way things have panned out in recent games I had approached yesterday’s fixture with all the optimism of one of those early Christians being tossed into a den of lions in front of a baying mob. What with our lot unable to muster more than about one shot per game for love nor money, and Chelsea teeming with Tuchels and Kantes and now even Lukakus, it was with a pretty heavy heart that I took my seat and peeled back my hands from over my eyes.

Yet, as mentioned, we came absolutely haring out of the traps.

Nuno sprang a bit of a surprise, both with his team selection and tactics. The return of Sonny obviously helped us look a tad more threatening at the north end of the pitch, while the deployment of Ndombele for Skipp seemed oddly adventurous for a head honcho who had only last weekend reacted to being top of the league by picking three holding midfielders. However, there we were, Ndobmele’s midweek escapades rewarded with a starting berth, and while I suppose some of the more cautious amongst us might have raised a tentative hand and wondered about defensive cover, it appeared that our heroes were being sent to battle with exhortations to attack ringing in their ears.

It so nearly worked, too, dash it all. Kane, Lo Celso and Sonny duly attached themselves each to a Chelsea centre-back, the press was high and the passing often zippy. Indeed, this zippiness of pass owed much to the fact that those not in possession were humming around busily and stationing themselves usefully to become available for a pass. The intensity matched that which we showed against Man City, with Chelsea’s attempts to pass out from the back proving particularly fertile ground for our press, and in short all was right with the world – except that we couldn’t stick the dashed ball into the dashed net.

And while it sounds obvious, that having been well established as the point of the exercise since the game was invented, it created one heck of a problem. No need to delve into too much gory detail as I suppose, as everyone saw what happened next – half-time, Kante, and so on and so forth – but the game-plan, well though it worked, really needed us to take an early lead in order that we might progress to Stage 2, as it were, and cling on to the lead while offering a countering threat.

Instead, in the blink of a second half eye we were two behind, with every last ounce of puff exerted and little clue how to break down a Chelsea defence that were smoking cigars in between the occasional victory in their own personal duals.

While there is much to chide about the second half, both in terms of individuals and the collective, AANP is prepared to break with tradition and just this once look on the bright side of a 3-0 hammering at home. For while the energy levels dropped to zero and the team simply ran out of ideas, the first half – or at least first half hour – gave a hint of the tactical nous and game-plan that might serve us a little better against weaker opponents. While one would not expect the exact tactic (of our front three essentially marking the opposition’s back three) every game, the high press and speed of passing was encouraging.

The chronology of things may have left a bad taste in the mouth, but the positives of the first half hour ought not to be dismissed out of hand.

3. Dele, Lo Celso and Ndombele

That said, nor should what followed be ignored. I don’t attach too much blame for either goal conceded (which I suppose is a tad generous on the opener, as headed goals from corners are eminently preventable), but tactically our lot appeared to consider that the best way to deal with Chelsea was to scratch heads and chase the occasional shadow; and moreover the attitude, from those paid handsomely to stretch every sinew for 90-odd minutes, was pretty half-baked.

Now the above stinging tribute is aimed at most of those on show (Monsieur Lloris perhaps exonerated, Hojbjerg similarly and young Skipp also at least having the dignity to upend a few blue-clad bodies when he was introduced). So when I zoom in on Dele, Lo Celso and Ndombele I want to make clear to my public that this is not to say, by extension, that those others in attendance could walk off with heads held high and breasts swelling with pride.

But Dele, Le Celso and Ndombele seem to attract the spotlight as much because it is hard to fathom what the devil they are supposed to be doing.

Ndombele at least appeared to start proceedings where he had left off in midweek, with the ball attached to his foot as if with string, and the capacity to mesmerise still burning bright within him.

So far, so good, and in fact all three of the above contributed to the first half promise, in their own specific ways. Dele popped up to assist both in defence and moving forward; Lo Celso stuck to his pressing role; Ndombele popped the ball about as required.

But when the leaks started to spring in the second half, none of this lot seemed to do much about it. In fact, they all rather disappeared from view, until reality caught up with perception and Ndombele and Lo Celso were officially removed from proceedings.

And while I suppose there are mitigating circumstances, not least in the fact that Our Glorious Leader has yet to imprint upon the collective an obvious signature style, this will have to go down as yet another game in which I ask of both Lo Celso and Ndombele, “What the devil are they supposed to do?”

Both seem shiny and expensive, and obviously come complete with a whole range of bells and whistles – but what are their optimal positions? Where and how do they best contribute? And, without wanting to revisit the heady days of my philosophy degree – what is their purpose? Both have been wandering the corridors of White Hart Lane for a few years now, and yet I’m not sure any amongst us are any the wiser as to how to use them. It’s pretty frustrating stuff, as both are clearly possessed of decent wedges of talent, but at present they just seem to roll around on the pitch, not quite contributing anything like as much as they ought.

On a vaguely similar note, I’m not hugely convinced about Dele’s supposed reimagining as a central midfielder. He trots around dutifully crossing t’s and dotting the occasional i, but there is still a lot about him of the square peg trying to adapt to a round hole. He is and always was best gliding surreptitiously into the box to nosey around and pick up goals. Putting the onus on him to track back and defend only seems to encourage him to concede free-kicks in dangerous areas; similarly, watching him take all day to pick a pass in midfield does make me occasionally yank at a clump of hair from my scalp.

4. Gil

And briefly, it drifted a little under the radar, but this gave us a first proper eyeing of young Gil at Premier League level, as he was given half an hour or so to work up a sweat.

While one does not pass judgement on half an hour against the current European Champions and quite possibly future Title-winners, there was precious little about the young tick to cause even a slither of excitement. I cannot quite remember how much on top of Lamela we paid for his services, and no doubt the deal was made with an eye on the future – but in the here and now I must confess to watching him and a little wistfully wishing that we could have brought on Lamela instead.

At one point Gil was simply shrugged out of the way by Rudiger like a cat swatting aside a passing rodent, and while in time he will presumably sink a steak or two, it was hardly the game-changing impact for which we were looking.

Nor did Gil do anything at all with the ball at his feet that suggested he might prompt a wrinkle or two to appear across a Chelsea forward.

Brighter days will undoubtedly come, but to finish a game like this wishing we hadn’t sold Lamela seemed a suitably damning conclusion.

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Spurs match reports

Rennes 2-2 Spurs: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Ndombele

Oddly enough, in the midst of yet another thoroughly toothless lilywhite showing we actually had one pretty eye-catching individual performance; and even oddlier, that performance was delivered by young Monsieur Ndombele. I don’t know much about his childhood, but I would guess that in his school reports the gist of the feedback from his teachers would be along the lines of ‘Gifted, but doesn’t always apply himself’.

But by golly that gifted streak was on show yesterday, in full technicolour. It would be a stretch – and in fact a plain untruth – to say that he covered every blade of grass and bossed proceedings, but that never has been the instruction on the side of his particular tin. Instead, his gifts manifested themselves in the form of absolute wizardry pretty much every time he had the ball at his feet.

During the early knockings, when we mistakenly chalked this up as a walk in the park, Ndombele seemed central to all that was good about us, not least in carrying the ball ten yards from central to attacking locations, casually dispensing of opponents as if playthings. It appeared to be the sort of attacking spark for which our mob have been crying out in recent games, and Rennes couldn’t fathom it.

His contribution to the opening goal has been well documented, and even thereafter, when all around him seemed to realise that rather than a stroll in the sun this was actually a fight to the death, and one they were losing, Ndombele continued casually to befuddle the nearest Rennes opponent with his every touch, seemingly oblivious to the fact that the tide had turned and disaster loomed. Remarkably, every time he received the ball he seemed to carry on like this was some sort of exhibition match in which fleet-footed trickery was a legal requirement. It was pretty sensational stuff.

Whether or not he can do this regularly, and indeed how he might be accommodated in the first place, are questions for another day. For now, it is simply pleasing to note that after another thoroughly underwhelming production we were at least able to give tongue to some rarely-used compliments about Ndombele.

2. Lucas

The current whacky trend amongst our heroes is to hobble off injured at the earliest opportunity, and Messrs Bergwijn and Lucas duly filed their entries yesterday, with all the accompanying winces and limps on show.

About Bergwijn I am relatively indifferent, truth be told. Being the sort of armchair fan who prefers my wide attackers shiny, with plenty of dribbles, crosses and goals, I am yet to warm to the chap terrifically. His injury I therefore acknowledge as unfortunate, and so on and so forth, but once out of AANP sight he’s pretty definitely out of AANP’s mind.

Far more galling was the sight of Lucas succumbing to whatever fatal blow it was. While in previous seasons I must confess to having been unconvinced, this time around he has been delivering the goods by the bucketload. His dribbles have been suitably mazy, and unlike in previous seasons, rather than simply waltzing around in a small circle and hitting a brick wall, this time around he seems to waltz past hacking limbs before delivering a sensible conclusion to the whole adventure.

It is produce all the more bewitching given the amount of risk-free nonsense being peddled by those around him. With Sonny still AWOL and the boy Gil seemingly considered too green for the rigours of the English game, the stage seemed well set for Lucas – and he appeared to have been delivering.

His injury therefore elicited a pretty fruity curse or two from this quarter. A swift recovery is to be firmly wished.

3. Kane

While Lucas seems to have fallen back in love with the game, and Ndombele – well, it’s anyone’s guess what goes on in between those two particular ears – that rotter Harry Kane now lopes about the place with the air of an aggrieved teenager.

I can’t help wondering if he would steam around the pitch with greater vim if the white shirt had on its breast three lions rather than one cockerel, but I suppose it’s difficult to gauge and probably harsh to opine. Still, while one appreciates there is little he can do when all and sundry are tying themselves in midfield knots rather than simply giving him some service, his body language is nevertheless that of a man who would rather be elsewhere. Which rather chimes with his close-season interviews, what?

This attitude is all the more galling when one considers that he has now overtaken the great S. Perryman Esquire as our European appearance record-holder. It’s an honour that ought to be held by someone who wants to wear the shirt, dash it.

On a more practical note, this rot of him swanning around in midfield has to stop. The back-to-goal first-time flick to set up our opener was a joy to behold, straight out of the Teddy Sheringham playbook; but an occasional venture a few steps south to dink one cheeky pass is one thing; taking up residence in midfield and trying his best Pirlo impressions are another. “Stay up front, laddie”, would be the anthem in his ears from AANP Towers.

4. Nuno’s Masterplan

This was a pretty difficult game to summarise in a single, pithy statement. I know because I tried – my old man, AANP Senior, presumably deciding that, having cut his teeth on the double-winners, the Europa Conference was beneath him. I suspect he is now clearer on events now, having been fully briefed by yours truly.

If the raison d’etre of momentum is to swing, it put its heart and soul into the job in yesterday’s game. Whereas the first twenty or so had much of the cakewalk about it, when Rennes decided to up the ante they did so with such relentless gusto that our lot simply could not cope. This storm having been briefly weathered thereafter, Rennes seemed in the second half to decide that being the dominant force suited them, and I for one had rather given the thing up as a lost cause when Hojbjerg spared our blushes.

Credit where due then, but trying to fathom Our Glorious Leader’s tactics did make the head swim a bit, particularly in the context of previous games. Having approached the Palace game – as league leaders, lest we forget – with three defensive midfielders, I can only assume that Nuno was approached by an angel in a dream, such was the extreme nature of his swerve to yesterday’s tactic, of a single holding midfielder and everyone else with radar set to attack.

His hand was rather forced, admittedly, by injuries, but at present much about our weekly setup suggests that the Brains Trust has not quite yet got to grips with the squad at their disposal. This is hardly to chide the honest fellow, mind, for he’s only been there five minutes.

Moreover, in truth, rather than a settled formation, I’d prefer us to have a default attitude, preferably that shown in our opening day win over City – and not a million miles from that shown by Rennes when they went behind yesterday, for it was an absolute force of nature.

Finally, as a valedictory note, a congratulatory word to the Rennes support, who, for reasons that I must confess baffle me, sounded absolutely nuts throughout.

Categories
Spurs match reports

Palace 3-0 Spurs: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. Lack of Effort

When one casts the mind back to the opening game of the season, in which we put in effort by the bucketload against Man City of all people, chasing down every loose ball like the fate of the free world depended on it and then haring off on breakneck counter-attacks, one does rather scratch the bean at the limp fare on offer yesterday.

One accepts defeat – even a 3-0 defeat – if the troops have fought tooth and nail, and simply come up against a mob that have fought toothier and nailier; or indeed, one takes it on the chin when a good fight has been fought and matters have been settled by a spot of magic, or even a dodgy refereeing decision.

But it really wasn’t cricket to watch our lot give it ten minutes and then take to ambling hither and thither, each with that distracted air, as if they one-by-one-realised that a more pressing engagement awaited elsewhere, and this pesky football lark was little more than an inconvenience.

I’m not sure that too many of lilywhite persuasion were getting particularly carried away by the fact that we began the day as league leaders, but even with the Expectations dial sensibly turned to a level somewhere between ‘Middling’ and ‘Low’ I think it was reasonable enough to have expected our chosen few to have least feigned interest in proceedings.

If the rallying pre-match battle cry against City had been about lung-busting determination to thunder into the faces of opponents, one can only assume that the final instructions ahead of kick-off yesterday was more along the lines of an anaemic shrug, because the notion of pressing the opposition seemed a long way down the various To-Do lists. Early on in proceedings, Hojbjerg offered a glimpse of what might be, when his high press helped pickpocket possession and created a chance that he then duly bungled – but nobody else took the hint, and Palace were left to knock the ball around between themselves in undisturbed fashion.

In possession things were just as miserable. Those in lilywhite appeared to consider it beneath them to motor around finding space and offering options for the man in possession. When opportunities for vaguely progressive passing did present themselves, they were firmly rejected, which seemed a pretty bizarre strategy.

Winks and Skipp were amongst the most prominent offenders here, seeming already to have decided to ostracise the new chap, Emerson Royal, by pointedly avoiding passes in his orbit, no matter how much space he tiptoed into. Whatever the question, the Winks-Skipp answer seemed to be ‘Sideways or Backwards’, which certainly tested the patience.

There seemed to be a plan of sorts to look for Reguilon on the left, but it was effected with such little enthusiasm that instead of passing directly to the poor soul the ball was generally just wafted into his postcode, leaving him to battle against the odds.

Even when eleven vs eleven I counted just the one burst of one-touch activity in the whole dashed match, the sort of move that had the ball whizzed around nice and promptly, shifting us the pitch faster than the Palace lot could scurry back. And frankly, one rather thought that if our heroes could only raise themselves for that single, thirty-second exhibition of passable football, then they rather deserved a three-nil hiding.

2. Absences

The absence of half a dozen regular cast members was trumpeted beforehand, and made a handy narrative, but here at AANP Towers we have a keen eye for detail, and it can’t have been much more than twenty-four hours before a few flaws in this story were detected. Admittedly, and in his defence, Nuno did not turn on the waterworks over this, and instead simply got on with life, but nevertheless it’s worth addressing this issue.

From the initial heady list of Sanchez, Romero, Sessegnon, Lo Celso, Bergwijn and Sonny, one could flick through and start discounting suspects, as it were.

Sessegnon, for starters, is rarely spotted anywhere near the first eleven, so dragging his name into things is pretty disingenuous stuff.

Until approximately three weeks ago, the absence of Sanchez, while not necessarily eliciting cheers would hardly have been lamented; while Romero is yet to feature in the league. Now admittedly, the absence of either of these fine specimens would ordinarily have been manageable, being countered by the presence of the other, as it were. The absence of both, therefore, admittedly created a mild quandary; but truth be told, if this were a world utterly bereft of Davinson Sanchezes I’d have no problem with that void being filled by Joe Rodon.

Further up the pitch, the absence of Lo Celso, as with Sessegnon, was hardly critical, meaning that the only real issue was up in attack, where both Sonny and Bergwijn had doctors’ notes to hand. As with Sanchez and Romero, the absence of one of this pair might have been covered by the presence of the other, but missing both did rather change the dynamic of the attack.

And here one might waggle a stern eyebrow in the direction of Our Glorious Leader, for when one has a perfectly serviceably Bryan Gil waiting in the wings, the decision to shove Dele into the ill-fitting role of pacy forward chappie seemed a tad misguided. (Not to mention that Dele’s removal from the midfield three also left us with a pretty functional and bland combo in the mid-section, of Hojbjerg, Skipp and Winks.)

So in truth, from the list of six, the only real challenge came around the two in attack – and could in itself have been countered through the deployment of young Gil. Hardly a justification for the dirge on show yesterday.

Where we were a tad unlucky was in the early exit of Dier. As mentioned, being a fan of Rodon I had no problem with his introduction yesterday, and actually lauded the move; but the fact that Tanganga had also to be shifted into central defence was a shame, for while Emerson Royal made a decent fist of things against Zaha, his was hardly a comfortable afternoon. It was a duel I’d have preferred had featured Tanganga.

3. Kane: Help or Hindrance?

As an aside, while touching on the subject of the front three, and the absences of Sonny and Bergwijn, this might be the moment for a rather awkward conversation about Harry Kane.

Carefully and deliberately leaving aside personal opinions about whether the absolute rotter should be welcomed back into the fold with open arms after having had the gall to try worming his way out of a contract without making a transfer request, several of my acquaintance have started to question whether the chap’s very presence is hindering operations; and they may have a point.

Referring again to the win against City, and indeed to various brighter moments the following week against Wolves, much of what was good about us in an attacking sense derived from the ability of Son, Bergwijn and Lucas to motor up the pitch as soon as possession was swiped, creating three-on-three situations that played out not just in real time but seemingly in fast-forward, the whole thing a blur of whizzing legs and interchanging positions.

However, remove one of the aforementioned three, plop in Kane, and the machinery doesn’t operate with half as much pace. In short, Kane slows down those counters, either by virtue of not whirring the little legs as quickly, or simply by deciding to take up residence about thirty yards further south. (Yesterday he seemed to offer neither, which was all the more odd.)

The AANP opinion has not yet been cast on this matter, and there seems more to it than just Kane (as mentioned, poor passing of the parcel from midfield to attacking full-backs didn’t help) – but with sterner tests awaiting, the optimal utilisation of that rotter Kane and his myriad talents cannot happen fast enough.

4. Lucas

Unusually in a performance of such ineptitude, there were actually a couple of presentable individual turns in amongst the dross.

Lucas, who can consider himself particularly unlucky to have been hooked for that rotter Kane last time out, was, not for the first time this season, particularly full of beans.

The young bean has never been averse to grabbing possession, putting his head down and wriggling like the dickens away from all-comers, but to this thoroughly agreeable trait he also appears to have now added a half-decent end-product, typically sensible distribution of the thing. In fact, one can imagine that in other teams (Exhibit A, Palace with Zaha) a chap of his ilk and predilections might be the sort around whom the team is built; but we being Tottenham he’ll presumably be back on the bench next week.

It was a joy to behold though, and, one imagines, a nightmare against which to defend.

5. Rodon

And in closing, an earnest salute in the direction of young Master Rodon. Quite why he is fourth cab on the centre-back rank is a mite baffling, given that those in front are hardly of the lineage of Moore, Beckenbauer and King; but fourth cab he is, and seemingly for use strictly in emergencies only.

However, he demonstrated a decent enough grasp of the basics when called upon last season; he seemed to do the necessaries for Wales during the Euros; and yesterday, if he put a foot wrong at all, I’m not sure I noticed it.

Actually, he and Tanganga both impressed, and it was just a dashed shame that the latter rather got carried away by things (although by the letter of the law Zaha should have been off himself, having tickled Tanganga’s face with a front paw at least thrice by my reckoning). While we were pretty woeful going forward, and the midfield was doing little to stem the flow of things in the second half, the centre backs were at least standing up to the challenge until the red card. Further outings for Rodon – and given the state of the various scattered centre-backs at the club, these seem inevitable – would be no bad thing.

Categories
Spurs match reports

Spurs 1 – 0 Man City: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Tanganga

There were a few ripe efforts out there today, with lungs being busted left, right and centre by those in lilywhite, but if J. Tanganga were to be presented with the gong for Standout Chappie De Jour, I suspect that any, few dissenting murmurs would be drowned out by pretty rapturous applause.

The key to this one seemed to be not only to stack up the young bean’s numbers (tackles won, crosses blocked, displays of upper-body strength executed and so forth – by each of which metric I suspect he delivered chart-topping stuff); but also to take into account the identities of those against whom he was pitting his wits.

I suspect even the most confident and capable amongst us might baulk a bit if turning up to the office and being informed by The Man that the day’s duties involved going toe-to-toe against first Raheem Sterling, and then Jack Grealish, and then quite possibly also both of them at once. And that baulking might have had an encore when informed, on enquiring as to the levels of assistance available for the gig, that help would primarily be delivered in the form of Davinson Sanchez, a chap whose most memorable contribution against these opponents involved being outfoxed to such an extent that he was left prostrate and face-down in the turf.

(Although in the interest of fairness let The Book of Such Things show that Sanchez put in a jolly impressive shift, both at his official sentry post in the centre, and when shuttling across to add his tuppence worth to the anti-Sterling/Grealish campaign.)

But to return to Tanganga. His delivery of defensive duties was not necessarily flawless, involving as it did a liberal sprinkling of manoeuvres deemed illegal by those who oversee such things. However, the fouls that were conceded in a strange way seemed to contribute to the sense that here was a fellow not about to shirk his duties. Quite the opposite in fact, for they were fouls that stemmed from full cylinders of enthusiasm and strength, rather than desperation or inadequacy.

From opening pips to his late withdrawal, Tanganga harassed and bustled away at his more illustrious foes, at least matching them and typically besting them; and even when they did wriggle free, one sensed that they were unlikely to look back upon their engagements with our man with any particular fondness.

All the more pleasing given that the last time he was sighted on official duty it was in the sorry state of being stretchered out of the arena, with his leg in a brace and an expression that told of one whizzing through various of the seven stages of grief.

2. Lucas

If there were to be any arguments against the crowning of Tanganga as today’s standout, one imagines that the principal case would be made in favour of Lucas Moura.

Few amongst us have ever failed to recognise that Lucas has been generously blessed by Mother Nature with a capacity to get his head down and mazily weave his way through oncoming traffic. The challenge seems to have been in harnessing that ability to generate optimal results for both the individual and the team. In short, I suppose, all too often, those mazy dribbles have tended to fizzle out into possession squandered and a tumble to terra firma.

Today however, as seemingly in pre-season, the stationing of Lucas as a trusted member of a swift attacking triumvirate, alongside the similarly fleet-footed Son and Bergwijn, seemed to bring out the best in the chap.

Neatly brushing under the carpet, to be dissected another day, the question of how one H. Kane Esquire would fit into a team whose main attacking thrust is built upon pace, it was a most pleasing surprise to witness Lucas delivering that of which we have known him capable, and for which we have yearned, pretty much since the day he arrived on the N17 doorstep.

Nor was his performance was solely one of direct runs at rather panicked defenders. His twinkling toes were also put to good use in winning possession, winning fouls and clipping lay-offs to nearby chums. Lucas was quite happy to do the hard work as required, as well as enjoying the more glamorous side of the game allowed by charging over halfway in a three-on-three.

As a side note, this dedicated, pace-based attacking system, bringing the best out of certainly Lucas and Bergwijn, did make me wonder whether the dearly-departed Lamela might have had a role to play in Nuno’s brave new world; but that particular king is dead, and here, presumably is where we wish long life to the newest king, Bryan Gil.

3. Skipp

This particular book having closed with a happy ending, all is now, naturally enough, sweetness and light, but in the early knockings AANP was observing proceedings with the customary pained grimace and unhealthily heightened pulse, and was paying particular attention to one of our number.

Much of the summer weeks at AANP Towers have been spent in robust and at times pretty fruity dialogue with others of lilywhite persuasion, specifically debating the merits or otherwise of young Master Skipp. The thrust of these particular back-and-forths has generally been that while others have championed playing the young nib, I thought it best to give him another season at Norwich (where by all accounts he was the absolute toast of the town last time out).

The AANP rationale here, was that while he had indubitably proved to all observers that he was a stripling who could excel in the Championship, I was far from convinced that similar glory awaited in the top flight, and therefore though that we might as well gauge his suitability for Premier League life by watching how he got on once again at Norwich. This would have both the benefit of testing his ability whilst also avoiding any risk that the illustrious Spurs midfield would suffer, were he to be found out of his depth.

As it happened, Our latest Glorious Leader, was evidently convinced of Skipp’s ability, and into the starting eleven he duly rumbled.

The opening thrusts did not actually bode terrifically well. Within the first five minutes Skipp had been caught in possession and also conceded a free-kick in a pretty dangerous spot, due to what appeared to be the general failing of not being quite at the races.

Thereafter however, and to his credit, if he put many feet wrong he disguised it well, because few in lilywhite better advertised the general theme of the day, of getting stuck right into the meat of things.

Pre-season has confirmed that Skipp has a handy pass or two in his locker, for lighter occasions; but today, understandably enough given the vaunted opposition, his mantra when in possession seemed to be “Safety first”, and it was a sound decision.

More impressive and eye-catching today was the earnest lad’s willingness to launch into any tackle with heart, soul and just about all his body-weight. If there were an opportunity to challenge a City man for the ball, Skipp did not hold back on the gusto, and while City’s undoubted quality in final third ball-pinging can often be difficult to contain, he was evidently damned if he were going to let any of their number simply skip through the centre.

Watching Skipp charge into an opponent, pick himself up and charge into the next opponent also prompted the exciting notion that against some of the lesser teams we face, there might be scope for him to sit back, manning the gates as it were, and allow one P-E Hojbjerg to head off further up the field, as he did to surprisingly good effect for Denmark during the Euros.

4. General Approach

Tet for all the individual honours, perhaps what was most pleasing was the general mentality of those in lilywhite (and, indeed, green). This was no smash and grab victory in the style of certain managers of our history, the sort that would feature all eleven camped in and around our own area attempting to snatch a goal and then repel a siege for eighty-plus minutes.

While naturally pretty circumspect, after the testing opening quarter hour and particularly in the second half our lot looked to attack where possible, notably avoiding the option of sitting back to defend the lead once established.

The mentality appeared to be to fight for the ball, by pressing opponents and approaching tackles with the philosophy that nothing less than full-blooded would suffice. Indeed, when the dust settles, that spirit of determination to win the ball in fifty-fifty challenges might be what lingers longest in the memory, all the more so for being frankly the polar opposite of what we’ve come to expect of our lot.

Credit here should go to Our Glorious Leader, for the fitness levels displayed were impressive. We may have benefitted from various cast members having a summer free from international responsibilities, and I also wonder if the choice of Woolwich as our final pre-season opponents was of particular benefit, in sharpening a few reactions.

On top of all of which, as pointed out by my Spurs-supporting chum Dave, the general philosophy of tempting fate by trying to pass out from the back, when woefully ill-equipped to do so, has seemingly been replaced by the infinitely wiser approach of shifting the ball to the quicker players and letting them make merry.

There will no doubt be tougher days ahead, but this was an absolute triumph, and, most pleasingly, one richly-deserved.