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Spurs match reports

Spurs 5-1 Newcastle: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. Doherty

Having spent the last couple of years drooping his frame and acting like the whole football lark is a new one on him, in the last few weeks Matt Doherty has ripped off the mask to reveal that all along he was actually one of the better right wing-backs around.

It therefore seemed pretty cruel to react to the absence of Reguilon and Sessegnon by shoving him in at left wing-back. I mean, really. He’s only just found his feet, and now we jab a finger at him and say, “But can you do it on the left-hand side?”

On top of which, the re-jig meant that Emerson Royal and his mobile clown show was the custodian on the right. Moving our one decent wing-back to an alien position, in order to accommodate an infinitely less competent wing-back, seemed rather knuckle-headed thinking to me. As our heroes lined up at kick-off, I chewed a pretty nervous lip.

As it turned out, the one Johnnie completely unflustered by all this behind-the-scenes complexity was Doherty himself. These days it seems he wakes up each morning convinced he’s some distant relative of Pele, and not giving too many damns which flank he’s asked to patrol.

It actually works to Doherty’s advantage that he’s not really one for whipping in crosses all day and night. As far as Doherty is concerned, a wing-back’s job is to make himself available at various points up the flank, and indeed further infield, popping short passes to chums who fizz around nearby.

‘Interplay’ seems to be the anthem on Doherty’s lips, with ‘Whipped Crosses’ coming a long way down his list. And this being the case, it doesn’t really matter if he’s on his weaker foot, because even the weakest limb going will not stop a man adopting useful positions and dabbing handy five-yard passes that keep attacks healthily ticking along.

Our opening goal (the Ben Davies header) was a case in point. Naturally, much has been made of Sonny’s whipped cross for that goal, but rewind a good minute or so, and the corner was earned after Sonny went on the gallop from circa halfway to circa the six-yard box; and (stay with me here) rewind a further ten seconds or so and, crucially, this gallop would not have happened but for a perfectly-weighted, first-time, half-volleyed cushioned pass from Doherty.

For context, immediately prior to this, Romero and Lloris had been rolling the ball left and right to no real purpose, before the latter punted it upfield in the general direction of Doherty. Until then our entire game had been characterised by the absence of quick, forward-thinking distribution. Doherty’s first-time pass to Son admittedly did not look like much at the time, but I’d suggest that it was precisely the sort of injection of urgency we’d been begging for.

Admittedly I suppose we could keep on rewinding indefinitely, and count our lucky stars that the game kicked off at all, but having kept a pretty beady eye on Doherty and his left-sided escapades I clocked this one with approval.

As if to hammer home the point that being right-footed is neither here nor there if you tick all the other left wing-back boxes, Doherty then popped up with a goal at the far post, which is the sort of good habit to be encouraged in any wing-back, and even followed it up with some jiggery-pokery to set up Emerson to clown-shoe in our third.

2. Romero

Young Master Romero continues to raise his performance level drastically with each game, which by my reckoning means that he should become the best defender in the history of the game by approximately Easter Sunday.

When the match was long won, a four-goal lead established that even our lot couldn’t have messed up, I derived some entertainment from watching that Saint Maximin fellow scuttle away and perform step-overs and whatnot, looking for all the world like he possessed eight legs rather than the designated two. It generally required three in lilywhite to crowd him out on such occasions – except, however, when Romero sized him up.

There was a marvellous thrill in watching Romero trot over, cut through the bluster and fly into a challenge that pretty emphatically took ownership of the ball, whilst also uprooting young S-M and sending him a few feet into the atmosphere.

Simply to close the chapter on that violent note would, however, be to do Romero a grave injustice. The rattling challenges constitute only approximately 50% of the sketch. As has been noted with awe in recent weeks, part of the fellow’s magnetism lies in the fact that he also uses the ball with such good sense.

Romero tends to look for something fresh and spring-like when delivering a pass, as if to send the ball on its way with a message that he isn’t simply idling away the hours but genuinely believes that that act might be the start of something magnificent.

Which is not to suggest that every pass he plays scythes open the opposition: that is more the domain of rotter-in-chief, Harry Kane. Much of the time Romero’s passes are pretty gentle beasts – but they seem to me to have two critical points of delight.

Firstly, they are almost always forward, looking to advance the play by shifting the narrative from Defence to Midfield. Only in extreme circumstances does Romero go in for the rather negative business of bunging it back to the goalkeeper.  And secondly, they are generally very specific in nature, plastered all over with the name and whereabouts of the recipient, as opposed to simply being hoicked up the line with a fair amount of meat, for an unholy scrap to ensue between opposing members of the supporting cast.

It says much about the chap that when the ball rests at his size nines, rather than letting my eyes glaze over and contemplating the infinite, I crane the neck with a goodish amount of fevered anticipation.

3. Kane

I’m not sure whether Kane determines such things by poring over the data or simply tossing a coin, but this was evidently a day on which he decided that he would be Creator rather than Finisher, and after going through the motions a bit in the first half – like everyone else in lilywhite – he duly rolled up his sleeves and became unplayable thereafter.

I did wonder quite what the Newcastle tactical bods did with their time in the lead-up to this game, because Kane’s ability to drop deep and spray the ball wherever he damn well pleases is hardly an innovation. But as often as not when he picked up the ball around halfway, the Newcastle mob seemed to think he could be left to his own devices without causing any damage, seemingly oblivious to his ability to pick out teammates from just about anywhere on the pitch.

As ever there was some dreamy stuff, and the only shame was that he couldn’t be on the other end of his own passes. But I suppose that would be asking rather a lot, even for him, so we had to make do with him having the absolute time of his life in that withdrawn sort of role, orchestrating things like nobody’s business. In fact, by the end of proceedings he was starting to deliver no-look flicks and pings, which really are the hallmark of a chappie in his absolute prime.

Moreover, those around him started to pick up the rhythm of the thing too, realising that if Kane were in possession around them then they had better upgrade their own personal outputs. Thus it happened that Kulusevski started his dashes before Kane had even received the ball, and Emerson Royal – who in truth, rarely takes much convincing that he is a far better player than he actually is – began unleashing back-heeled passes and whatnot whenever his path crossed with Kane.

Of course, being a rotter, it is unclear quite how much longer Kane will remain a member of this particular parish, but while we’ve got him we might as well marvel at him.

4. Bentancur

Far fewer column inches will be devoted to young Master Bentancur. This strikes me as something of an injustice, for if column inches were to be dished out for artistry alone then Bentancur ought to have entire volumes written about him, as he both glides around the place and then typically picks a dickens of a useful forward pass, to chivvy things along and have the attackers snapping to it.

Even in that slightly moribund first half, when our heroes seemed to think that every pass required a detailed dossier of pros and cons before execution, Bentancur had the presence of mind to give the dashed thing swiftly, a hint rather lost on his colleagues.

This might not have been a day on which Bentancur’s passing brought obvious rewards – in terms of leading to goals and near-misses and the like – but with an egg like him taking possession of the thing in the middle third, life feels a lot less worrisome than it otherwise might.  

While Hojbjerg alongside him had one of his better days, I nevertheless remain impatient for the return of Skipp, and the unleashing of a double-act that promises to blow up the skirts of all onlookers. I rather fancy that Skipp’s energy would complement Bentancur’s smooth amblings around the place, and the overall effect would be ultimately to overwhelm all-comers.

5. Conte’s Attacking Substitution

On a final note, I was mightily impressed with Our Glorious Leader’s decision, in the final knockings, to replace Emerson with Bergwijn, and switch from a 3-5-2 to a 4-4-2 (terms I use loosely, given the fluidity of it all, but you get the gist). I was jolly surprised too, for the record, but mightily impressed nonetheless.

Lest we overlook the context, this change was made when we were already 4-1 up, so hardly the sort of situation that called for flinging on an extra attacking body. If anything, I would have expected the rather dispiriting if understandable sight of Davinson Sanchez tripping over his feet and into the fray, stage right, while Sonny or someone similarly attack-minded made the long walk around the perimeter.

Quite what the rationale was I cannot be sure, Conte still opting not to single out AANP for a quick tactical chat about this and that after the curtain falls. However, if the thinking was to press the foot on the accelerator and up the goal difference while opportunity knocked, then I think I might have to hastily rewrite the will and bequeath everything I own to this genius of a man.

It has long been a frustration of mine that when dishing out a hammering, and faced with an opponent desperately wanting to exit the premises and disappear up the motorway, rather than taking full advantage and peppering them with attack after remorseless attack as the clock winds down, our lot will too often stroke the ball around between themselves, as if content that their work is done. The concept of making a bit more hay while the sun is blazing down like the dickens appears lost on them.

All of which made the Emerson-Off-Bergwijn-On gambit yesterday even more pleasing. And you can probably picture AANP’s delight when the thing brought near-instant rewards, with Bergwijn bobbing along for his customary goal. As well as the entertainment value of dishing out a good thrashing, these things may also have some practical value come mid-May when the points are totted up. It was only a month ago that our goal difference was ten or so worse than the other lot; now we’re ahead by a nose. Long may the needless attacking substitutions continue.

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Spurs match reports

Spurs 2-3 Southampton: Four Tottenham Talking Points

This turned out to be one of those imbroglios so madcap and all-action-no-plot that, come the credits, I could not quite keep track of what emotion I ought to register. I therefore made a quick check of my in-match notes, which revealed the following:

FACT: First half was a one-one hammering.

Comment: Eh? That doesn’t sound right.

FACT: Trust me on this one.

Comment: “One-one” suggests a pretty even state of affairs, what? Perhaps some ebb and flow, but all things being equal-

FACT: ‘Twas an unholy battering.

Comment: Crumbs. I say, I don’t mean to be a stick in the mud, but the phrase still seems to suggest parity.

FACT: This is Tottenham Hotspur. The laws of logic go out the window.

Comment: Fair.

FACT: We did have five good minutes in that first half though.

Comment: Scoring one and missing a pretty clear chance for another? This suggests that at least something about Conte’s counter-attacking format has t’s crossed and i’s dotted.

FACT: Second half we started to edge on top.

Comment: Decent goal to show for it too.

FACT: Indeed.

Comment: Rather.

FACT: But our attempt then to manage the game was utterly ham-fisted

Comment: Evidently. Within five minutes we were losing, dash it.

FACT: Well, quite. We conceded exactly the same goal twice.

Comment: Yes, I noted that. Rather like watching a car-crash in slow motion. You know the feeling – can see it all unfolding, know it’s going to end disastrously, yet can’t tear the eyes from it.

FACT: We equalised in added time!

Comment: Huzzah! That Bergwijn is certainly good for a-

FACT: Disallowed by VAR.

Comment: Curses.

That being cleared up, the talking points rise to the surface, rather like bloated bodies in a pool.

1. The Counter-Attack Strategy

On paper, it could hardly sound more straightforward: let the oppo have the ball, nick it from them, hare up the pitch and strike.

And as my notes above indicated, when our heroes got to the fun part of this plan – namely haring up the pitch and striking – all was lollipops and rainbows. Sonny, Kane and Lucas have rehearsed this scene often enough to know all the moves with their eyes closed. As if to illustrate this, despite having an otherwise muted sort of time of things Lucas burst into life twice, creating a goal each time; while Sonny and Kane’s combo ought to have led to a goal for Reguilon, who had evidently got wind of the fun being had by the front-three and arrived like a steam train to get in on the frivolity.

When his head hit the pillow, Senor Conte may therefore have noted that the ‘attacking’ element of counter-attacking needs little work. It’s cigars and generous bourbons in that part of the world.

The challenge lies in the earlier premise, of letting the oppo have the ball. Harmless enough on paper, the reality was that Southampton ran rings around our lot for the majority of the first half. And not just the innocuous sort of rings that involve shoving the ball east and west without a whiff of penetration.

Southampton seemed to cut through our heroes at will, fashioning chances whenever the hell they fancied it. Now one accepts that such eventualities will unfold over the course of the season. Go up against the billionaires of Man City, or Liverpool or Chelski on one of their better days, and one can expect that sleeves will be rolled up in all quarters, and the dickens of a defensive shift be put in by every crew member.

But to be pulled from pillar to post non-stop, at home, by Southampton, seemed a bit thick. A decent outfit, for sure, and no doubt they’ll be plundered for their riches come the summer – but really not the sort of opponent that should have any self-respecting team hanging on for dear life. Yet come half-time one rather wanted to throw in a sympathetic towel and lead each of our heroes away for a sit-down and a warm glass of milk.

Difficult to pinpoint any single problem, but a couple of them seemed to reside in midfield, and one at right-back, as will be explored below.

Hojbjerg and Winks did not seem to have enough fingers between them to stick in the countless dykes appearing all over the place. By the end of the first half the pair seemed to offer little more than decorative value, their tactic of dangling an occasional limb proving pretty ineffectual in countering Southampton’s relentless switches to the left.

Watching the horror unfold, I did wonder whether a change of personnel might have eased things a tad. Messrs Skipp and, from early sightings, Bentancur both seem a bit more geared towards actually winning the ball, an approach I’d be happy to see at least attempted, in contrast to the Winks-Hojbjerg slant of staring at the opponent from a distance of five yards and hoping nothing dangerous follows.

Alternatively, the thought occurred that a switch to 3-5-2 might have swung things in our favour. One will never know of course, and it would also mean sacrificing Lucas, but in its previous incarnations (Leicester away, Liverpool home) our lot have rustled up a couple of pretty humdinging performances, which makes one chew a bit.

2. Hojbjerg

Well, this is awkward. That is to say, one doesn’t like to be the bearer of bad news, but Hojbjerg does appear to be discreetly shuffling from the queue marked “Solution” to that marked “Problem”.

Tough to stomach, because one rather admires the attitude of the chap – too often our midfield has been manned by blisters who will casually shrug off defeat as one of life’s little irritations, which rather get in the way of a neat pirouette and dainty flick. Hojbjerg, by contrast, comes across as the sort who spends his down-time chewing on glass and glaring at his offspring, an attitude I for one think we need a dashed sort more of in the corridors of N17.

But alas, attitude alone doth not a midfield general make. Watching as Hojbjerg dabbed pass after pass into a curious ether that couldn’t accurately be classified as “Here” or “There” made one clear the throat and shoot an embarrassed look towards the nearest chum, as if to say, “He’s rather off the boil tonight, what?” And frankly, that nearest chum would shoot a look back as much as to suggest, “And not for the first time, I fear”.

On top of his startling abandonment of geography in his passing, Hojbjerg, as mentioned above, became ever less effective as a defensive screen. It all adds up to a chap who currently seems to be in the team based on tattoos and anger alone. He may just need a rest of course, something that does not seem to have been afforded to him since approximately the summer of 2020. Whatever the cause, something seems amiss.

All that said, such things are not entirely black and white. Hojbjerg’s finer recent moments seem to have been performed up in the final third, either in lending his frame to the high-press or bobbing off on a little jaunt into the opposition area. Such a jolly brought about our opening goal last night, which had me scratching the loaf and wondering if we’ve misunderstood him all this time.

3. Emerson Royal

There seems a lot less misunderstanding to be done on the matter of Emerson Royal. Bang average going forward and pretty woeful going back, I can only assume he produces stuff in training that would make Maradona blush, because game after game the young wag peddles some first-rate rot.

I’ll stick him the charitable stuff first: going forward he at least has the right idea. He knows the drill, and obediently charges off up the right flank, which if nothing else will give the fellow on the other side something to think about.

The problems seem to begin once he has the ball at his feet. If there’s a wrong option to choose, Emerson homes in on it like a moth to a flame. Alternatively, if the situation demands he whip in a cross – and let’s face it, in a wing-back’s line of work this is going to be bread-and-butter stuff – the fabric of the universe seems to melt before his eyes, and the peculiar fellow just cannot seem to muster the capacity. If you excuse the physics lesson, nothing about his crosses suggests he knows anything about trajectory or curl.

It’s pretty maddening stuff, as this must surely have been right up there in bold font on the Job Description, yet I struggle to remember a single decent cross he’s swung in. Tellingly, unlike Reguilon on the other side, Emerson gets nowhere near our set-pieces.

(Lest anyone point to his deflected effort vs Brighton at the weekend, I have a stash of rotten fruit waiting to be hurled, for in the first place there was no-one in the area at whom he could have been aiming, and in the second place the eventual arc of the ball owed everything to the deflection and precious little to Emerson’s own input.)

Moreover, defensively Emerson is such a liability that Southampton made no bones about the fact that he and he alone would be the point of all their attacks. Time and again, in the first half in particular, they targeted him, and time and again he melted away in the face of it all.

While the two late goals conceded made for pretty nasty viewing, there could be little surprise about the fact that Emerson was the nearest in the vicinity for the winning goal in particular. (I exonerate him re Southampton’s second, as Kulusevski switched off instead of tracking his man, leaving Emerson in the unenviable position of having two unmarked forwards on his plate.)

The winning goal, however, was a neat illustration of Emereson’s pretty odd approach to defending, involving him attempting to allow the chap a header and banking on his ability to block its path to goal, rather than actually challenging for the dashed thing.

Meanwhile, Matt Doherty stares on listlessly from the sidelines. This is not to suggest that Doherty’s presence would transform operations, but I do wonder quite what depths Emerson has to plumb before being bundled out the back and having the door locked behind him.

4. Romero

Strange to say, having conceded thrice, but at the heart of defence Romero filed away another solid shift. Not flawless – at one point in the first half he was utterly undone by a straightforward long-ball hoicked over his head – but by and large, whatever came into his sphere was mopped up with minimal fuss, and often a few extra servings of meat.

He would benefit from a few more capable souls to his left and right, and indeed in front of him, but defensively, both on terra firma and up in the atmosphere, he seems a pretty handy nib to have on the premises.

Intriguingly, the fellow is also evidently possessed of a pretty eye-catching pass from deep. Given the general absence of creative spark from our central midfield pair, this could prove to be a pretty significant outlet in weeks to come.

Alas, there were simply too many duds in the defensive unit last night, and it is a bit fruity to expect Romero single-handedly to put out every fire going. The latest cameo from Bentancur suggests that there’s a chap who needs fast-tracking into the starting eleven, and the eventual return of Skipp might also add a sharpened elbow or two to the midfield, but after the dominant performance against Brighton at the weekend, this was mightily disappointing stuff.

Tweets hither

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Spurs match reports

Leicester 2-3 Spurs: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Midfield Three

A day later it is with a steadier – if throbbing – head that I pore over this one. The first point of note was that the formation – and specifically the use of a midfield three – struck oil.

For clarity, that midfield three read, from west to east:
– Hojbjerg (advancing)
– Winks (sitting)
– Skipp (advancing)

When Leicester had possession, this triumvirate seemed keen not to be any further than about ten yards from one another, presumably under careful instruction rather than simply a gnawing loneliness, and the effect was to narrow the gaps through which Leicester could operate. It was not fool-proof – Leicester did construct two perfectly serviceable goals by penetrating this outer crust – but in general that midfield gang provided a handy first line of defence.

Their real value, however, came in the other direction.

Young Master Skipp is a man of many talents, but I must confess that I had never numbered amongst these any particular capability in the field of galloping forward adventurously into the final third. And yet there he was, in glorious technicolour, trading in every last breath from his lungs in order to avail himself in a rather niche but surprisingly effective inside-right sort of position. It was not so much what he did with the ball that attracted the admiring glance, as the positions he took up in making himself available. Be it for Emerson on the right-hand touchline or Kane dropping deep, Skipp took seriously this role of Main Supporting Actor On The Right, and it contributed strongly to our general dominance.

In a slightly less energetic manner, Hojbjerg chipped in similarly in and around the inside-left channel, and all the while Winks held fort at the base of things (and also took a whole procession of some of the best corners I can remember from our lot).

As one would expect, a Hojbjerg – Winks – Skipp combo was a tad light on effervescent creativity, these particular beans preferring to shuffle things along in orderly fashion rather than scythe apart anyone in opposing colours. And yet nevertheless, first Skipp (in intercepting) and then Winks (in his excellently-weighted assist) put pretty much all the bricks and mortar in place for our first goal; Hojbjerg’s vision carved out our second; and Hojbjerg was at the base of things for our third as well, in intercepting the original Leicester pass.

It has not gone unnoticed that arguably our two finest performances of the fledgling Conte era have come in a 3-5-2 formations (Liverpool at home, lest ye be racking the brain). In this latest instance, the switch to 3-5-2 was forced somewhat by the absence of Sonny, and his return would prompt the ghastly question of whether Lucas ought to be relegated in order to maintain the 3-5-2. For now, however, we might as well just continue the ongoing period of basking, and enjoy the fact that the formation tweak and use of a midfield three worked out in pretty splendid fashion.

2. Doherty

If there were one failing in the first half it was that Emerson Royal was being Emerson Royal. There are worse things he could have been of course, and being Emerson Royal does not automatically make one a hindrance to operations; but nevertheless, it does limit forward-looking options – and by extension this slightly neuters the entire, carefully-constructed mechanism.

In plain English, our formation under Conte depends heavily on the wing-backs to motor into the final third and produce things of value once there. And there appears to be something lurking deep within the core of Emerson Royal that, for now at least, prevents him flinging off the shackles and living the riotous life of a wing-back with unfettered joy and gay brio.

Instead, having adopted the requisite positions north of halfway, Emerson’s life seems to grind to a halt, and those around him often seem to decide it best to carry on with things as if he weren’t actually there at all.

Bizarrely enough, it took the introduction of Matt Doherty of all people, to introduce a few rays of sunshine to the right wing-back position.

My surprise at this development can be readily explained. Doherty is the sort of egg whose lilywhite career to date has been so crushingly underwhelming that I rarely utter his name without the prefix “Poor Old”, or “That Wretched”, or even sometimes a choice of words less family-friendly. Whenever he has popped up on the right, the complexities of a life in football have generally seemed to overwhelm him, with the result that every choice he has made has been the wrong one.

(In an act of generosity I’ll spare him too much comment on those rather ghastly visits he’s had to endure to the left wing, as these are not his fault.)

Yesterday, however, as soon as he took to the field, Doherty seemed to stumble upon some unlikely alchemy for the role of right wing-back, and scarcely able to believe his luck made the decision simply to roll with it for as long as he could.

His very first involvement was a series of one-twos with Kane that seemed to blow the minds of all Leicester folk in the vicinity; and from that moment on he clearly decided that he was on a good thing in charging into the final third, and kept returning to that particular well for more.

Positionally, this was a choice stuffed with goodness. At any given point at which we attacked, it became an accepted truth that Doherty would be motoring up the right, and
one only had to glance the laziest of eyes in that direction to nail down his coordinates.

Crucially, however, in addition simply to being in useful places, Doherty also produced a flurry of half-decent crosses. Some were admittedly plucked out of the sky without too much inconvenience by Schmeichel, and others just missed their mark, but it nevertheless made a pleasant change to see such crosses being delivered at all, aerially and towards the back-post, rather than simply slammed into the first functioning opponent.

And Doherty’s spirit of adventure was ultimately critical in bringing about our equaliser, by dint of creating a sufficient nuisance for the ball to end up obligingly at Bergwijn’s size nines. Admittedly he lost possession and fell to earth at the crucial juncture, but fortune favoured him, and defeat turned into victory.

Might this prove a turning-point for the chap?

3. Kane

I noted in the home leg against Chelsea last week that that rotter Harry Kane appeared to have rediscovered his old swagger, and as if to hammer home the point he actively sought out every opportunity to showcase it last night. In fact, if anything, he rather overdid it at times. By the midway point of the second half one wanted to take him by the hand, give him a calming pat or two and point out that we were all now fully aware of his resurgence, and he really did not need to belt the ball as hard as he could into the stands at every opportunity.

However, the occasional misguided long-range swipe is part of the overall package of a Harry Kane brimming with confidence, as he genuinely seems convinced that he can do anything. While he will never, ever take even a half-threatening free-kick, everything else in his bag of tricks looked mightily impressive yesterday.

The headline acts of course were his goal, executed like the most seasoned assassin, and his pass to for Bergwijn to seal the win, spotted and delivered with huge bundles of aplomb.

However, two moments alone a highlights reel might make, but hardly tell the whole story. And the whole story was loosely along the lines that almost every time he touched the ball he did something useful with it, and that he played a pretty primary role in much that was good about our lot. And when you consider that our lot were on top for at least a good hour of the ninety, it reflects even more impressively on the chap.

His hold-up play, choices of when to drop deep and passes to bring in others for fifteen minutes of fame were all pretty wisely selected and effected. Moreover, in hitting the bar and having one cleared off the line he did almost enough to claim a hat-trick that few could really have begrudged him. Cracking stuff from a man back at the top of his game.

4. Sanchez

One of the oddities of last night was the fact that Davinson Sanchez looked oddly assured for the most part. Admittedly one might point to a needless lunge by the touchline to earn a caution, and the fact that he was wrong-footed for the second Leicester goal, and these would be fair points – the blighter was not faultless.

Nevertheless, having been inadvertently promoted, by virtue of injuries first to Romero and then Dier, from fourth choice centre-back to leader of the pack, a conclusion that nobody in their right mind would ever will into reality, he seems to have shrugged his shoulders, accepted his lot and started to make a decent fist of it.

It might be that he simply looks more impressive given that next to him resides young Tanganga, who while full of promise has looked in recent weeks like a man terrified of his own shadow. But much to my astonishment Sanchez showed authority, strength and pretty good judgement yesterday.

He even occasionally strolled out of defence with the ball at his feet. The enormity of this ought not to be underplayed, for in almost every previous lilywhite appearance he has danced around the ball as if scared that it will suddenly develop legs and attack him.

If I were a betting man I might stick a few bob on the name Sanchez being ridiculed in weeks to come on these very pages, but last night he took on responsibility within that back three, and at the very least that deserves acknowledgement.

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Spurs match reports

Chelsea 2-0 Spurs: Three Tottenham Talking Points

1. Tanganga

One imagines Japhet Tanganga must have felt as pleased as punch to find out pre kick-off that he was officially Next Cab On Centre-Back Rank, but alas any such bobbish sentiment went up in smoke pretty much as soon as the curtain went up.

Anybody who can make Davinson Sanchez look like a calming presence alongside him is evidently having the deuce of a time of things, and poor old Tanganga went about mangling just about every situation he stumbled upon.

In truth, that early pass of his in the general direction of Emerson Royal was hardly the worst one will ever see committed to turf. Admittedly it might have benefitted from a few extra m.p.h. behind it, and the delivery was certainly more “General Vicinity” than “Specified Postcode”. As passes go, however, I imagine young Japhet must have thought he’d done a decent job of things with that effort.

Unfortunately, this was not one of those occasions on which it was sufficient to get the general gist correct and let Mother Nature sort out the rest. Before he could let out an, “Oh crumbs,” the Chelsea lot were already whizzing the ball back at him, and they were pretty merciless about it.

And if Tanganga were hoping for a hiding place, or a quiet twenty minutes or so, he’d evidently misread the agenda for the evening. Chelsea seemed to take a rather cruel delight in repeatedly thrusting the young buck into the spotlight to field all sorts of new and challenging trials, so I’m not sure there were too many raised eyebrows when he erred again.

But by golly, even to us Spurs fans, well-versed as we are in defensive bobbins and calamity, the second goal was pretty thick stuff. Again, I actually had some sympathy for Tanganga, who with a degree of justification would have felt that he was ticking all the right boxes as he got his head to the cross. “Top work, old boy”, he no doubt whispered to himself as he soared to meet it, “another trial safely negotiated”.

And at that stage one understood his argument. It would be stretching things to say that all was well with the world, given that we had barely touched the ball the whole game, but the immediate danger appeared to have been averted, and Tanganga’s reputation, while hardly restored to former health, had at least avoided any further blemish.

However, this being a Spurs defence, the threat of buffoonery lingers strongly and permanently about the place. If I felt a dollop of sympathy for Tanganga there was a double serving for poor old Ben Davies, who must have felt that he was being dragged into the farce for no good reason and completely against his will. He would presumably argue that he was simply adopting the appropriate position and avoiding any unnecessary interference, when suddenly his torso became front and centre of activity, and in the blink of an eye he had an own goal to his name.

2. That First Half

Although Chelsea did not exactly pound relentlessly at the door during that first half – one does not really remember Monsieur Lloris being pressed into too much action – they were, by just about any other metric, absolutely all over us.

While Tanganga was the undoubted poster-boy of the unfolding horror, it struck me that the formation was as much to blame. When Chelsea had possession – which was virtually the entirety of the half – our wing-backs hastily edited their job titles and headed south to create a back-five. And in theory I suppose this made sense. What better way, one might have pondered beforehand, to keep things secure than to pack the defence?

But it’s a funny thing about life, that when one comes to putting into practice a seemingly faultless plan, the whole bally thing just comes apart at every conceivable hinge, leaving all involved looking rather silly. And so it transpired for our heroes. For a start, Chelsea did not have enough forwards to go around, with the result that for much of the time various members of our back-five were marking empty spaces rather than players, and no doubt shooting quizzical looks at one another.

Moreover, this routine of the wing-backs dropping deep also had the unholy consequence of leaving poor old Skipp and Hojbjerg utterly swamped in midfield. Chelsea hit upon the bright idea of pinging the ball about in whizzy, one-touch fashion, and the net result was one of the most one-sided 45 minutes in living memory.

3. Our Wing-Backs

I noticed a rather brutal gag doing the rounds following our game against Watford, namely that our opponents thought so little of Emerson Royal’s ability to cross the ball that they were happy to afford him the freedom of Vicarage Road all afternoon, safe in the knowledge that his deliveries would end up everywhere but the sweet spots inside the penalty area.

Frankly Claudio Ranieri seems a bit too nice to hatch a scheme quite so dastardly, but whatever the truth of the rumour it gets my vote. Emerson’s virtue is that he willingly gallops into the appropriate forward position, as such distracting defenders and offering a friendly face to whichever of our mob is in possession; his vice is that his actual attacking output is at best average, and often a few degrees lower.

However, with a midfield consisting of Skipp and Hojbjerg – honest sorts, but barely a creative bone between them – the onus within our system is very much upon the wing-backs to provide an endless stream of goods for those up top to devour.

This largely failed against Watford because of the quality of the output; last night it failed because any threat from Emerson was snuffed out before he ever sorted out his feet in the final third.

Meanwhile out on the left, the ploy was doomed each time at the moment of inception by dint of Matt Doherty’s allergy to his left foot. Whenever we broke on his side and gaps started appearing in the Chelsea defence, Doherty, understandably but infuriatingly, cut back inside onto his right, removing in that single motion all momentum we had.

(Given Royal’s general impotence on the right, I do wonder whether Doherty’s service might be employed in that particular residence; but this is a debate for another day).

The tactical switch in the second half – to a back-four ahead of which everyone else was loosely jumbled together and allowed to wander wherever they wanted, in the style of a children’s playgroup – at least gave us more bodies in midfield. More to the point, all in lilywhite received the memo that simply watching as Chelsea ran rings around us would not cut it, and things duly bucked up a bit. One would hardly make our lot favourites for the second leg, but score the next goal in the tie and that ill-conceived hope might spring into life again.

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Spurs match reports

Spurs 3-0 Crystal Palace: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. Lucas

Lucas’ ongoing transformation from ‘One-Off Miracle Worker in Amsterdam’ to ‘Regular Provider of Creative Spark’ continues pleasingly.

Scoring one goal and setting up two others is, of course, an eminently sensible way to attract a healthy outpouring of approbation, but if anything, today’s healthy stats were something of an anomaly. In general, Lucas’ contributions are not so much measurable in 1s and 0s as simply being the sort of exciting stuff in the middle act that gets us off our seats.

So ignore, if you will, his headed finish, and purr instead over his little amble that started off that move: collecting the ball up inside his own half, dipping a shoulder or two, motoring northwards and picking out a chum. It was fabulous stuff, well before he then finished off the move, and it’s the sort of marvellous act of spontaneity he has been producing for the best part of twelve months now. Few things quicken the pulse like Lucas collecting the ball deep-ish and unveiling some trickery.

However, any man of good sense and sound taste can ignore Lucas’ headed goal for only so long. That Lucas should have scored a header carries in itself little to surprise. We regular watchers of all things Hotspur are pretty well-versed in the marvellous spring provided by his lower limbs. For a fellow only moderately vertically blessed, he possesses one heck of a leap.

But there are headers, and then there are headers. Typically, Lucas seems to head from a standing start. Today he altered his approach by preceding it with a running leap, and the effect was pretty much that of a runaway tank hurtling off an upward slope. The chap absolutely flew into his header, making thumping contact with the ball – which he had the presence of mind to direct downwards, canny fellow – and then, most pleasingly, making such seismic impact with the unsuspecting Palace defender that I’m fairly sure he broke him into several large pieces, left scattered on the turf.

For good measure, Lucas’ passes for both Kane and Sonny’s goals were placed and weighted to perfection, and generally made to look a little too easy. Admittedly he got a little carried away by the final knockings, and took to swinging wildly at anything within his orbit, blasting a couple of late shots about thirty rows back, but by this point I’m not sure anyone on either side cared too much.

2. Skipp

If there’s a solid, convincing Spurs win to report then it’s becoming an increasingly safe bet that there’s a solid, convincing Oliver Skipp performance not far behind.

As ever, whenever the delicate issue of 50-50 challenges was raised, Skipp’s ears pricked up and he was straining at the leash. This is now starting to become a norm.

But we were also treated to a couple of other sides of the lad, almost as if whoever pens his narrative was keen to flesh out his character a little today.

So it was that during those stodgy, opening exchanges when nothing flowed and our lot spent more time huffing and puffing than actually blowing anything down, much of the emphasis was on Skipp to collect possession from the back-three and do something useful with it. This struck me as a pretty tough gig in truth. Skipp and his minder, Hojbjerg, appeared to be regularly outnumbered in midfield, meaning that much depended on the former’s ability to collect the ball on the half-turn and pivot away from rapidly incoming challenges. And this I thought he did pretty well, on the whole. His more glamorous, attacking co-stars were not exactly banging down the door and screaming for possession, and given this limited available assistance, Skipp protected the ball well enough when supplied by Dier and chums.

There were also a couple of sightings of Skipp’s attacking instincts, although these are evidently still a work in progress. He actually seems capable enough when it comes to nudging things along outside the box, and having tossed one cross up towards the back post he evidently developed a taste for it and started doing so quite regularly, which seemed reasonable enough.

Alas, when the situation demanded that he himself should put his head down and aim for the top corner, the cogs did not so much whir as overheat, and panic got the better of him. Sooner or later, I get the feeling that he will unleash an absolute screamer into the top corner, but for now it might be best to address his shooting with some diplomatic encouragement and swiftly change the subject.

3. Emerson Royal

Emerson Royal. While it is, objectively, a pretty impressive-sounding name – exotic, with a hint of Hollywood – when the bounder pitched up on the doorstep a few months ago I was as nonplussed as the best of them. A blank expression and a hasty Google about covered the breadth of my reaction to his arrival. But here at AANP Towers we are nothing if not pretty open-minded folk, so I resolved to give him a few shakes of a lamb’s tail before deciding permanently whether to bless him with my worship or curse him with loathing.

Those few months have now passed of course, the evidence of the eyes has been submitted and until about 15.28 GMT today the results did not make particularly eye-popping reading.

He has certainly not been randomly catastrophic, in the scarcely conceivable manner of his predecessor, Serge Aurier; but at the same time he has done little to blow up anyone’s skirt and make himself indispensable to operations. Whether offering his tuppence worth on the front-foot or tracking back to aid the rearguard, his has generally been the sort of input that makes one shrug and murmur, “Middling stuff, what?”

He has had good days and bad days – and if one were at this point to put the pen down and let that cover the entire narrative of his Tottenham career there would be few complaints. However, this being one of those good days, it seems only charitable to pause and slip him some credit.

In the blur of comeliness that was Moura’s gallop and pass, and that rotter Kane’s exceedingly smooth finish, for our first goal, it was easy to overlook the brief but crucial interjection from our man Royal, for his was the pass into space along the right flank that invited Lucas off on his aforementioned gallop. There will be finer passes played this season, ‘tis true, but let that not detract from the fact that at nil-nil, and with the bash as a whole having until this point failed to ignite, it was a pass that was as well-executed as it was conceived, and represented pretty much the first time we had got in behind Palace.

Thereafter, as tends to happen quite a lot with our heroes, buoyed by this initial success the chap seemed convinced that he had turned into Pele, and both his confidence and creative juices went into overdrive. His chipped pass for Lucas’ goal was an absolute delight, and with Palace increasingly stretched and ragged, it was Royal who in the second half frequently became the go-to man for delivery of bespoke, made-to-measure, whipped crosses.

Nor did he put too many feet wrong defensively, but then he had hardly had to use a defensive foot at all, such was the lop-sided nature of this contest.

I am still pretty convinced that we could use an upgrade out on the right, but Royal’s life principles certainly seem to accord with the wing-back-based philosophy of Our Glorious Leader, and today at least he provided some evidence of his value going forward.

4. Tanganga

A brief, congratulatory note might be due to young Master Tanganga. On the face of it, one could look back at full-time and decree that he had an easy time of things today, what with Palace self-destructing after half an hour and barely touching the ball thereafter.

However, reflection on the context of Tanganga’s selection does make one pause and think a bit. For a start, in a most curious turn of events, the sight of our Starting XI minus one Ben Davies actually had me furrowing the brow and asking concerned questions. Not a thing I’d have ever thought possible just a couple of months ago, but such is the value of Ben Davies to Conte-Ball.

Davies’ natural left-footedness has been a pretty critical part of the apparatus in recent weeks, making his absence today a bit of a poser. Tanganga, for all his willing and evident ease in possession, has been blessed with a left foot primarily for balance rather than anything more inventive, so through no fault of his it appeared that we were at a disadvantage before a ball had even been kicked.

On top of which, if any of the casual bystanders in N17 had forgotten about our last showdown with this lot it’s a pretty fair guess that Tanganga hadn’t, that occasion having been marked by his ongoing feud with one W. Zaha Esq, a conversation ended abruptly when Tanganga received two yellow cards and biffed out of the picture early.

To be parachuted into the middle of proceedings with this rather loaded history behind him did make me slightly fear for the lad, I have to admit, so it was to Tanganga’s credit that he simply got his head down and for 90 minutes dealt efficiently with anything that life threw at him. Defensively he was sound, and I noted that he put his attacking instincts to good use in mimicking the forward forays of Ben Davies, in that curious, inside-left-midfield channel. He did not do a great deal with the ball once he received it there, but his presence alone in heading into that channel seemed to create space and options for Messrs Reguilon and Son.

5. High Press

While we finished the game at an absolute canter, one probably ought to pause for a moment of solemn reflection and remembrance at the opening twenty or thirty minutes, in which nothing of note seemed to happen. We did not seem to be in much danger, Palace not really possessing much in the way of wit or imagination; but, equally, our lot were also pretty light on W. and I., with the result that things rather spluttered along for a while.

What was notable, however, was that for all the flatness of our creative output, whenecer Palace gained possession – and particularly when they did so in their own half – the effect was as that of a siren blaring and red lights flashing like nobody’s business. To a man our heroes seemed to drop whatever they were doing and swarm all over the man in possession. It was as remarkable as it was impressive.

Remarkable chiefly because this same group of players, just a few weeks back, seemed reluctant to break into a jog to regain possession. And yet here they were, seemingly convinced that the path to success lay in hounding the life out of whichever foe happened to have stumbled upon the ball near his own area.

Questions and caveats abound – regarding the capacity of our lot to maintain this approach, the time and place for it to be effected, the quality of the opposition, and so on. But this afternoon, I preferred simply to sit back and marvel. The intensity of this high press was not too far short of a seasonal miracle, and moreover the appetite for it seemed to spread like wildfire throughout the team. Amongst the growing number of indicators of the improvement under Our Glorious Leader, this ranks amongst the most exciting to behold.

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Spurs match reports

Spurs 3-0 Norwich: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Lucas

To say that Lucas got the ball rolling would be to understate things somewhat. Just as we had all settled into our seats for some of the more standard N17 fare – some pretty touches in the middle, all a bit toothless upfront – Lucas suddenly dinked, dinked again and then unleashed an absolute piledriver, which almost tore the net from its moorings and carried it off into the Paxton.

This was pleasing on multiple levels. Innately, it always settles the nerves around these parts, to score early against the lesser teams. Just simplifies the whole process, if you get my drift.

Moreover, there is a certain thrill in seeing a goal of such quality unravel in the flesh, a stone’s throw away. Obviously, we the long-suffering onlookers will take any sort of goal, even be it a comedy ricochet between defenders’ heads that leaves Ben Davies marching away with his hands aloft – but when the goal is something straight from the top drawer, complete with fancy wrapping and a neat presentation bow, the eyes do widen and the chatter becomes increasingly excited.

And on top of all this, I was particularly pleased that such magnificence, and all the associated acclaim that will follow, emanated from the size nines of Lucas Moura. After a start to his lilywhite career that experts would probably decree ‘Middling’, the honest chap started to emerge under Jose as one of the more important cogs in the attacking machine. Towards the end of the Jose era, Lucas was let loose in the Number 10 position, and the scales rather fell from our eyes, as we started to understand what the fuss had been about in the first place.

That Number 10 berth gave him a decent platform from which to display his box of Mazy Dribbling Tricks, and, crucially, he seemed to have embellished the general product by adding useful outputs – finding team-mates or spanking towards goal, rather than heading off down a dead-end and falling over.

Via Nuno and now Conte he has become a regular within the front three, but generally acknowledged as the support act, even though his performances have continued to impress the paying public and discombobulate retreating opponents in equal measure. He has generally lived in the shadow of Sonny and that rotter Harry Kane, over the last season.

So (and if you’ve got this far, well done you, because I’ve admittedly taken a roundabout route to get here – much like the Lucas of old) to score – and to score that particular goal – yesterday, felt like a neat celebration of just how far Lucas has come, and just what an important contribution he makes to the overall machinery.

2. Skipp

On the subject of machinery, young Skipp is fast becoming the most important cog in the whole damn contraption. Remove him, and the whole thing will collapse in on itself, in a cloud of mediocrity and half-heartedness.

Within the space of four days Skipp has treated the luminaries of first Brentford and now Norwich as if they were Champions League Final opponents, charging after every loose ball as if his life depended on it. There is something vaguely of the Master-and-Apprentice about the way in which he goes about his feverish scrapping under the watchful, approving eye of Hojbjerg, but on current form the Apprentice now seems vastly more important to our play.

I suppose one should caveat that these most recent opponents hardly amount to the toughest he’ll ever face, but it would be a bit rich to denigrate the chap’s performance on that basis. He was excellent in winning possession, and also pretty effective on the ball, in his own endearing manner going to great lengths to ensure he could keep things simple.

Norwich being his most recent former employer, young Skipp even ventured up into the final third, to try his luck in front of goal and really commemorate the day, which I thought was no bad thing. There is no harm, after all, in adding another string or two to the bow. But in the main, this was a triumph for doing the dirty work in midfield, and allowing the more glamorous cast members to get on with the headline roles.

3. Ben Davies

I don’t know about you, but frankly the recent transformation of Ben Davies has me wondering about the very fabric of the space-time continuum.

It’s not clear to me what has happened to the Ben Davies I used to know and groan at, head disappearing into my hands in despair. That iteration of Ben Davies was one who plied his trade as an orthodox left-back, and could be relied upon to swing nine out of ten of his crosses into the first defender, behind the gathering penalty area queue or off into orbit. On top of which he never seemed the most cognizant of his surroundings when defending, seeming to have a blind spot for whatever or whomever happened to be lurking over his shoulder.

In truth, that blind spot when defending has not magically disappeared, but being on the left of a back-three seems to suit him well enough defensively, giving him cover on both sides.

However, the real transformation has taken place on the front-foot. The switch to the back-free has given Davies permission to mingle with the cool kids in the final third, trotting forward in some sort of inside-left position to supplement numbers. And to general amazement, he’s actually doing a dashed good job of it. His work for Sonny’s goal yesterday was impressively slick, and hardly an isolated incident. For a fellow who has turned being bang average in possession into an art-form over the course of his Tottenham career, Ben Davies is remarkably composed when visiting the opposition penalty area.

While left of a back-three is a position on which he has cut his teeth in international football, I’m not aware that his propensity to wander forward as an auxiliary left-midfielder has been quite so heavily promoted, so it may be that Our Glorious Leader deserves the credit for this astonishing transformation, but whatever its genesis long may it continue.

4. Sessegnon

Senor Reguilon’s unscheduled siesta yesterday gave us all an opportunity to drink in a good hour or so of the lesser-spotted Sessegnon.

The circumstance of his astonishingly block-headed Europa Conference red card does, of course, linger fairly fresh in the memory, so one might have forgiven him for displaying a nerve or two yesterday, but I think I adjudicate fairly enough when I say that the young egg put in a sprightly performance.

He was certainly a pretty enthusiastic soul, seemingly reading from the Oliver Skipp Playbook when it came to chasing down the foe and letting all and sundry know what he was about.

The reputation with which he came armed when first signed a few years back was that of an all-singing, all-dancing sort, armed with trickery, pace and an ability to deliver a good cross – one might say, a sort of anti-Ben Davies brand of left-back. Now in truth, not much of that was in evidence yesterday. I remember neither trickery, pace nor many particularly eye-catching crosses. He did, however, display enthusiasm by the bucketload, and engage in quite the set-two with his fellow whippersnapper on the opposing side (whose name escapes me).

As much as anything, it was heartening to see that the recent red card had not cowed him Sessegnon into a corner. A home game vs Norwich is probably as gentle a process of reintegration as one could wish for, admittedly, but with fixtures about to fly out from every available orifice it is useful to know that we have a Sessegnon primed and ready to step forward the next time Reguilon needs to book some annual leave.

Tweets here; AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes, here, lest ye be thinking of Christmas gifts

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Spurs match reports

Spurs 2-0 Brentford: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Skipp

As esteemed a judge as Glenn Hoddle piped up to say that he thought young Master Skipp was pick of the bunch last night.

(As an aside, and before getting into the meat of things on the pitch, given Hoddle’s tactical knowledge, and the fact he bleeds lilywhite, the AANP heart does yearn for him to be involved in the club in some way on the inside, rather than from the outside in the commentary box. Just a thought, albeit an oft-recurring one.)

Back to young Skipp. Hoddle had judged well, for Skipp ferreted about the place from first whistle to last like a man born to mop up loose ends, breaking down Brentford attacks before they started with the sort of challenges that put hair on the chest.

Alongside him, Hojbjerg put in a pretty convincing impression of a metronome, ticking along steadily and repeatedly in fairly controlled manner. One might say this was moderately pleasing, eliciting perhaps a polite ripple of applause. Skipp however, the enthusiasm of youth seeping from his every pore, was the more energetic of the midfield pair, displaying the sort of blood and thunder that had the natives bellowing approval. Oh that all in lilywhite would set about their business with his attitude and energy.

Moreover, as an unexpected bonus, Skipp’s rarely-sighted attacking juices were on display yesterday. He played a gorgeous pass to set Kane through for a one-on-one in the second half, and was also buzzing forward to good effect in the build-up to Kane squaring for Hojbjerg’s miss.

2. Sanchez

If Skipp was impressing in most things he did, poor old Davinson Sanchez was somewhere nearer the other end of the spectrum.

The spirit is obviously pretty willing – after all no defender of sound mind would ever take to the field intending to be bullied by his opposite number, or to wobble around the pitch when the night calls for strength of mind and body.

But somehow, Sanchez wandered the place last night with the air of a chap not really convinced of his own ability, a perspective that seemed to be shared by a decent proportion of the 60,000 onlookers.

I am occasionally inclined to tilt the head sympathetically and point out, on his more testing days, that he had the misfortune to come up against a tough opponent. However, this being the Premier League, that eventuality is likely to occur in just about every fixture. Every opponent has a tough old centre-forward leading their line, and Sanchez has rarely looked at ease against any of them.

So it was last night. Some duels he won; but in too many for my liking he was rather too easily shoved aside. Both in the air and on the ground, the fellow seems only just about to have a handle on things, and a nameless dread lingered throughout that the next attack directed towards him might be the one in which his legs collapsed beneath him and Brentford sauntered through unhindered.

On top of which, the poor old lamb looks utterly terrified in possession, dancing around the ball as if he has never in his life seen such a contraption, whenever it is gently rolled to him, before awkwardly pivoting back towards goal and shovelling it to Lloris. All while Joe Rodon watches on from afar.

Still, with Romero out for the foreseeable, the sight of Sanchez riding his luck for 90 minutes is one we can expect to see a lot more of.

3. Kane

That rotter Harry Kane had another game in which the good and bad mingled pretty freely.

There is in general still a stodginess about his play, as if the turf turns to treacle beneath his feet, giving him heck of a challenge simply to lumber from Point A to Point B when in possession. In his defence, his cause was not helped by the swarm of opposing bodies that closed ranks on him whenever he neared the area. Nevertheless, the air exuded was not one of slickness and confidence (one might refer to the pass he played to Lucas early on in the piece, when he might have shot but didn’t, and then overhit the pass for Lucas).

In this context his second half miss was dashed frustrating, but in truth I doubt that anyone is too concerned on that front – if he is getting himself into positions for one-on-ones then the goals will flow soon enough. The greater worry tends to be when he boycotts the area and lingers in midfield.

To his credit however, his contribution in link-up play to our second goal yesterday was an absolute delight. Nothing melts the AANP heart like a well-weighted ball inside the full-back – and there were a few of them on offer yesterday, with Skipp, as mentioned above, and Winks each producing one that made me go a little weak at the knees. Kane’s into the path of Reguilon was weighted to perfection, and deserved nothing less than the goal that followed for Sonny.

4. Set-Pieces

Our lot started things in pretty ripe fashion last night, pressing high, winning the ball and generally charging about the place like a bunch who’d been told in no uncertain terms to buck up following the Mura debacle.

This early pressure brought as its princely reward a slew of corners – at which point AANP’s enthusiasm waned considerably. Because for some reason, our effectiveness from corners is near enough on a par with repeatedly banging one’s head against a brick wall. It’s an oddity, frankly, because there are enough strapping sorts in our line-up to cause aerial problems, and even those who are less hefty – Moura, Davies – can be pretty effective in such situations. And yet we never score from the dashed things.

Mercifully, the trend was bucked last night, albeit in a manner that was equal parts luck and good, honest comedy.

However, own-goal though it might have been, I heap praise on the slender frame of Sonny, who has managed to take the thankless and quite possibly cursed role of Spurs’ Corner Taker and turn it into a surprisingly effective weapon.

I’m not quite sure why the likes of Eriksen and Lo Celso – chaps you’d bet could literally land the ball on a postage stamp from twenty yards – completely malfunction when faced with a stationery ball next to a corner flag, but Son is proving himself pleasingly adept in this particular field. Not only does his delivery consist of the requisite proportions of whip and height, but the little variations he threw in yesterday, in engineering short-corners, were effective enough to bring us a goal.

This bodes well. In the same way that I loudly denounce each conceded set-piece goal as something of a nonsense, being so cheaply conceded, so I delight in what is essentially something of a freebie when we score from one.

(As an aside, I’m minded to pop down to Hotspur Way myself and pointedly show all and sundry a few videos of the old Sheringham-Anderton corner routine, which despite being devilishly effective has lain neglected for two and a half decades.)

And while on the subject of set-pieces, I was particularly pleased with how our lot coped with the barrage of long throws from Brentford. Not a fan of such things myself, but one has to stiffen the upper lip and deal with this type of nonsense, and ultimately our heroes did so effectively enough – a precis that might well be applied to the game as a whole.

Tweets here; AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes, here, lest ye be thinking of Christmas gifts

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Mura 2-1 Spurs: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. Sessegnon

Young Sessegnon probably deserves the first column inch or two. Indeed, the casual observer, drinking in only the lurid headlines, might infer from the chronology of events that Sessegnon was the sole architect of this latest calamity. One would, of course, understand the sentiment, as early red cards rarely chivvy matters along in positive and serene fashion; but those of us who watched the piece unfold in real-time would be well aware that the truth is entirely more disturbing, involving as it did ineptitude and complacency from all bedecked in lilywhite faded blackcurrant and lime.

Back to Sessegnon. The football gods showed the full range of their cruel sense of humour by shoving him and his return to the fold front and centre of the pre-match hype. And I dn’t mind admitting that AANP fully subscribed to this narrative. When we signed him a couple of years back he was the bright young thing of English football, arguably further in his development than Bellingham, Saka et al.

And frankly, he might – and hopefully will – still be a roaring success. One red card, after all, doth not a failure make.

But by golly, it was one heck of a red card.

I note that some of lilywhite persuasion are trying to argue that his misdeeds were not worth two yellow cards. This, for avoidance of doubt, is utter rot. The first caution was idiotic to an immeasurable degree – making no attempt to play the ball, and aiming a kick at an opponent on the gallop. Nor was it one of those that could be filed under the heading ‘Tactical Foul’. Not that I’m a particular fan of such things, but sometimes these cynical numbers are desperately needed to prevent a highly dangerous counter-attack – this was not of the ilk.

And having already been booked, to leap into another flying challenge – again, hardly in a goal-saving context – defied belief. To those arguing that contact was minimal, I curtly reply that the young fool should not give the referee the option to make such a decision.

It has become something of a habit on these pages to witter on about how staggeringly block-headed footballers are as a collective, but these two bookings seemed to plumb new depths of stupidity.

On the bright side, young Master S. has now set his bar so low that whatever he does in his forthcoming engagements will represent vast improvement. Maybe he’s not so thick after all.

2. Dele

To say that Dele looked a shadow of his former self would be a bit stiff on shadows.

The all-singing, all-dancing buccaneer of a few years back, with velvety touch and a knack for timing a late burst into the area, is such a distant memory that I now wonder if he ever existed at all. If the current incumbent of his shirt gives a dam about his football, he disguises the fact in pretty convincing fashion.

Each time Dele received the ball yesterday he generally took six touches, lost possession and then promptly lost interest in the game altogether, preferring to wander off to a quiet spot of land, alone with his thoughts. And it was this latter part that represented a new low, this business of registering zero emotion once he had lost the ball. For a few years now, his output when in possession has been dreadful; but to see him shrug his shoulders and slow down to a walk once dispossessed really made one grind the teeth and hiss a bit.

If he really is trying to play himself back into favour, by golly he is going about it in a most peculiar fashion.

3. Kane

As for that rotter Harry Kane, I must confess his performance had me scratching at the old bean. Neither one thing nor another – or, to be more accurate, both one thing and another, if you follow my drift.

Sorry if that’s a bit cryptic. What I mean is that he managed to incorporate a pretty wide range of features within his night’s work.

For almost all of the first half he was as dreadful as anyone else. On that I think we can all agree. He lumbered about the place like a man donning his boots for the first time in a few years, failed to hold up the ball, failed to find teammates with intended passes and generally looked like a man who, on encountering the Slovenian mid-tablers, was a long way out of his depth.

The one moment in the first half that offered a glimpse of a record goalscorer was when he was stationed within the penalty area, and on receiving the ball conjured a shot from nowhere. He missed, narrowly, but the incident was still in pretty startling contrast to all that had gone before. The lesson, I recall murmuring at the time, seemed to be that dash everything else, Kane should just stick to the penalty area and get his shots off. No shame in that.

Then in the second half, when he spotted his friends arriving – in the form of Sonny and Lucas – Kane suddenly perked up, much like a small child who – well, who has spotted his friends arriving. The link-up play improved, he seemed more of a threat in possession and, to his credit, took his goal with a hefty dollop of aplomb.

And yet despite all this, the feeling still persisted that, unbeknownst to him, some rascal in the changing room had filled at least one of his boots with cement. He seemed to be having a devil of a time controlling his feet, and in the end appeared to give up on them and let them do as they pleased.

All things considered, it was a rather peculiar performance. The only certainty was that this was not a chap for whom anyone will ever pay £150m in a hurry.

4. Sanchez

I don’t suppose there are many tomes out there that have recorded that when Davinson Sanchez bounded onto the pitch in the latter stages of the win vs Leeds on Sunday, he actually managed to put not one foot wrong during the entirety of his cameo. It may only have been fifteen minutes or so, but it was a faultless fifteen minutes or so.

Football, however, being a pretty fickle mistress, I suspect that while Sunday’s input went under the radar, you won’t be able to throw a stone in the northern hemisphere without hitting someone ready to yowl about Sanchez’s ghastly contributions to yesterday’s disaster.

I have heard it said – by my Spurs-supporting chum Dave, no less – that Sanchez deserves some sympathy for being played out of position, on the left of a back three. This, as you might well imagine, received pretty short shrift at AANP Towers. If he were a right-handed darts player being asked to play on the left of a back-three, I might tilt my head, and utter an understanding word or two. But a right-footed, international centre-back being asked to play on the left of a back three – against Slovenian mid-tablers, dash it – ought to swan around the pitch producing the performance of his life.

Instead, not once but twice for heaven’s sake, Sanchez delivered a mistake so basic that all in attendance could anticipate it perfectly, well before it had happened. Even as he gathered pace, it seemed pretty clear that he was going to overshoot, be forced to cut back inside and end up off-balance and in coordinates entirely inappropriate for the job at hand. And so it transpired. Twice.

5. Same Players, Terrible Performances

I thought that the one soul to emerge with a modicum of credit was young Skipp, who at least seemed to pick up on the urgency of the occasion (although even he let himself down somewhat in the second half, misplacing and miscontrolling more and more as the game progressed).

This, however, is largely irrelevant. By the AANP reckoning – which admittedly is far from infallible – four of the worst Spurs performances of my lifetime have now occurred within the last 12 months (Zagreb away, Villa at home, Arsenal away, Mura away). I suspect there are a few more, given the number of games under Jose in which we scored early and then tried to defend the penalty area for 85 minutes.

One may quibble over the contents and ordering of that list, but what’s notable is that in this period we have had 4 different managers – which suggests that the common denominator here is the players.

It’s pretty meaningless gubbins for them to emerge after the game and talk about how such things are ‘Not good enough’ and ‘Unacceptable’, (although I have found that sinking a splash of bourbon each time I hear one of these phrases is a pretty handy way to numb the pain) when a month later it will simply happen again. There is no accountability at all, no repercussions. More or less the same mob simply reappear the following week. They can’t be placed on disciplinary or performance management courses – or simply sacked – as would happen if most of us under-performed in the day job.

Now it’s hardly a practical solution to suggest they be replaced en masse by various youth players who do not share their complacency and sense of entitlement, but as neither fining nor physically thrashing them for poor performances are allowed, I’m at a bit of a loss as to how to punish them for peddling such rubbish, and have no idea how one might buck them up and improve their attitudes. Over to you, Conte.

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Spurs match reports

Spurs 3-2 Vitesse: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. An All-Action-No-Plot Welcome for Conte

I recall a few years ago visiting the pictures in order to watch a talkie, which started off sensibly enough following a couple of bank robbers, but then took a sudden swerve into a completely different genre, in which everybody turned into vampires, of all things. I distinctly recall stumbling out of the place as amused as I was bewildered by what I had witnessed. Last night’s outlay had about it much in common with that motion picture, starting as it did one way, turning into a bit of a struggle – and then swerving violently into a different sort of thing altogether by the close. Sort of segueing abruptly from the Thriller genre to Slapstick Comedy, if you get my drift.

Given the frankly hilarious nature of the finale, it was easy to forget that for an hour or so we had a tight – if pretty amateurish – football match on our hands. Yet towards the latter stages this descended into the sort of farce that was reminiscent of two groups of drunks challenging each other to a kickabout on an oversized field, encapsulated by Emerson Royal attempting multiple step-overs (and doing so for the first time in his life, judging by their cumbersome execution), Sergio Reguilon doing keepie-uppies during the game and wide open spaces everywhere you looked, as befitted a match of 10 vs 9.

If Signor Conte were in any doubt about the madcap, all-action-no-plot way of things at N17 beforehand, he would have seen just about everything he needed to know last night.

2. Shiny New Formation

I cannot quite remember the last time I watched a game staring so intently at the formation of the collective, rather than the what was actually happening with the ball – but after all the chatter and videos about Conte’s supposed strategy, this was definitely one such occasion.

Much of the pre-match wisdom had been that we could expect to feast our eyes upon some form of 3-5-2, so I don’t mind admitting that I raised an eyebrow or two when our heroes trotted out adhering to a strict 3-4-3, with Sonny and Lucas either side of that rotter Kane.

And within that 3-4-3 there was not a hint of Kane dropping deep, Conte seemingly true to his word about viewing the fellow as one best employed in and around the penalty area.

Admittedly it might not be everyone’s idea of a wild day out, but I shall watch with considerable interest to see whether we stick with 3 in attack, or revert to a front 2 and an extra creative soul in midfield.

Yesterday, at least, it seemed a case of Conte moulding the formation to the personnel, rather than vice versa, and therefore accommodating Lucas within the front 3; but in time I wonder whether he might find himself shoved into a Number 10 role, demoted to the bench in favour of A.N. Other at Number 10 – or even reinvented as a wing-back. There seems a rather unfortunate irony in the fact that he and young Skipp – arguably our two standout players of the season so far (slim pickings, admittedly) – appear the least likely fits into Conte’s supposedly favoured 3-5-2 system, so it was awfully square of our newest Glorious Leader to accommodate both last night.

Further south, Conte pretty emphatically nailed his colours to the Back-3-And-Wing-Backs mast, to the extent that even when reduced to 10 men, and therefore presented with every excuse to revert to a back-four, he instead hooked a sweaty midfielder and brought on another centre-back, to ensure that B-3-A-W-Bs remained the order of the day.

It’s certainly an exciting idea in theory, but perhaps slightly flawed in practice, at present, by the fact that the various centre-backs at our disposal seem to demonstrate between them a few different shades of dubiousness.

The other captivating point of note around our formation was quite how wide the wing-backs stayed when we were in possession. If this were park football, with jumpers for goalposts and no set boundaries, both Reguilon and Emerson would have disappeared over the horizon and only reappeared at tea-time; but as it happened they each stuck pretty obediently to their respective touchlines, no matter which of our mob had possession, or where. And one understands the principle. We have a huge pitch, so why not utilise every blade, and give the opposition full-backs something to ponder?

(Of course, all the formation-tweaking in the world is of little use if Dier is going to be beaten to a straightforward header from a corner; and various of them contrive to make a pig’s ear of passing out of defence to gift Vitesse their second; but these are the joys on which Conte can reflect as his head hits his pillow each night.)

3. Romero

A word on the dismissal of young Romero, who by and large seems to have had the right idea about things since joining the madhouse.

Now footballers are not renowned for being the most cerebrally blessed, but even the thickest among them ought to be able to compute that once cautioned they should avoid like the plague any interaction that might land them a second yellow, unless absolutely necessary. (And for avoidance of doubt, ‘absolutely necessary’ here covers pretty much only saving a life or preventing a goal.)

So for Romero to go carting through the back of an opponent – on halfway – having already been booked, was pretty unforgiveable stuff. There was hardly any imminent danger, and the mind simply boggles at what the hell his thought process might have been. We dodged that particular bullet last night, thanks to Vitesse’s handy implosion, but on a bigger stage that would be one heck of a blunder.

As mentioned, the fellow has generally done more right than wrong so far, and indeed one ought to tip the cap in recognition of his neat pass through the lines that set up the lovely goal for Lucas. But Romero’s bread and butter is at the opposite end, and no professional with an ounce of common sense ought to pick up a second yellow for a challenge on the blasted halfway line.

4. Davies

Regular drinkers at the AANP well will be fully aware that Ben Davies is not regarded with any particular fondness by yours truly. A decent enough egg, for sure; a footballer worthy of the lilywhite shirt, I’m not so sure.

It’s been a bone of some contention, mind, mine being an opinion that is not universally shared, which seems fair enough, as one is always happy to chivvy democracy along with a friendly wave.

But rather than enter into that debate again, I highlight him here more to marvel at the fact that, like some sort of cat that’s already died eight times and is now being dropped from a considerable height, the chap seems to have landed plum on his feet with the arrival of Antonio Conte.

The evidence of a few hundred appearances suggests to me that Davies is not much of a left-back, primarily because his crosses too often go anywhere but the waiting limbs of a comrade. On top of which, he’s racked up his fair share of pretty avoidable and careless defensive lapses (and he was dashed lucky to get away with another one yesterday, waggling an errant foot at an opponent in the area when the game was still 0-0, and thanking the watching gods that the Europa Conference is too cool for VAR).

It is possibly because of those lapses that one would head a long way down the pecking order before selecting him as a centre-back in a back-four.

But introduce a back-three, and suddenly Davies becomes a pretty credible option. Being left-footed is the principle advantage here; but not far behind that is the fact that he’s not a particularly – or indeed remotely – devastating wing-back. Whereas Reguilon was fashioned from clay specifically in order to make merry on the wing, and should therefore on no account be regarded as a centre-back, Davies is sufficiently circumspect to be useful in a back-three.

Having two others alongside him is a useful insurance policy, to guard against those accidents to which he is prone; and being left-footed serves him well both in facing up opponents and in distributing the ball.

He still strikes me as the luckiest man in N17 to have found himself in Conte’s first line-up, but that position, on the left of a back three, strikes me as the one for which Mother Nature has best equipped him, and until January reinforcements arrive he might well become a regular feature of Conte-ball.

(Still not sure quite how he ended up furthest forward, and inside the opposition area, to create our third goal; and I’ll skimp on the praise because he actually made a pickle of an intended shot, rather than deliberately picking out a pass – but the assist goes down to Davies, B. so well done him.)

One could go one – there is much to be said about the pros and cons of Emerson Royal; the potential re-introduction of Winks; the Ndombele body-swerve and Lo Celso’s latest clanger – but this was a presentation to Conte, rather than a representation of him. What the hell he truly made of it all is anyone’s guess, but it was good of our lot to make crystal clear to him the size of the task that awaits. And frankly, if the entertainment continues to be as good as it was last night, then the remainder of this season will be an absolute blast.

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Spurs match reports

West Ham 1-0 Spurs: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Kane

Thoughts to follow on the grander scheme of things, but any self-respecting mob will want to follow the scent of blood before they do anything else, so logic dictates that we grab the nearest flaming club and brandish it at the scoundrel chiefly responsible for the game’s deciding moment.

When that corner came in for Antonio’s goal, one could attest, I suppose, in purely physical terms, that Harry Kane was indeed present and in situ, socks pulled up and hair neatly combed. For some onlookers, of a more traditional bent, this might have been sufficient. But what this utter ass did not seem to compute was that simply to stroll back into the area for the corner, confirm his attendance and consider his work thereby done for that particular episode was a dereliction of duty that bordered on disgraceful.

If Antonio had the presence of mind to stick out a pedal as the ball flew across him, why the blazes didn’t Kane do likewise? Had it been up the other end, I’m willing to bet a decent chunk of the mortgage that in his quest for personal glory Kane would have happily enough elbowed out of the way anyone in his path to make sure he was first in line. So when defending, simply to stand observe as Antonio waggled the necessary limb was enough to make me absolutely bellow in fury.

Now this egregious oversight might have been excused if it had been the only blot on the Kane escutcheon today. Instead, for shame, it pretty much summed up the rotter’s entire abysmal performance. Barely a pass of his seemed to find his mark; several moves that threatened to stir into life broke down when the ball reached his feet; and when at 0-0 an opportunity arose to square the ball for a Son tap-in he misjudged the geometry pretty poorly.

One might claim that the whole display from him was unusually neutered, but, depressingly, there was nothing particularly unusual about it. Ever since throwing his toys from the pram after not getting what he wanted in the summer, this supposed model professional has largely gone through the motions. As Monsieur Lloris himself has been quick to point out, our lot lack leaders on the pitch at present, and it would be reasonable to expect Kane to be foremost in this respect. Instead, he barely seems to show even personal pride in his performances.

2. Tactics

One might argue that it is rather harsh to castigate the chap so, simply for a lack of mettle when defending a corner, but in a game of fine margins such moments make all the difference. And make no mistake, in this game the margins were wafer-fine.

Personally, I do not subscribe quite so heavily to the view that we were toothless and impotent throughout. While hardly the sort of game in which defences were merrily ripped asunder every thirty seconds, our lot did nevertheless create a handful of chances at 0-0 that, with a little more care, ought to have seen us in front. As mentioned above, Kane had the chance to square to Sonny; Ndombele had a near identical opportunity to square one for Kane; and when a pass was squared from the left for a Skipp tap-in, the baton-exchange was not quite what it ought to have been, and the ball went abaft instead of ahead of the man, which rather shot down the opportunity in its prime.

One understood the irate howls for as higher tempo as our lot carefully poked the ball sideways around halfway, as it hardly gave the impression of lung-busting urgency, but again I was inclined to bend a sympathetic ear to the players on this point. This was chiefly because West Ham did not seem to push anyone forward to press, but simply held their defensive positions, from front to back. As such, space in which to make mischief was at something of a premium. When the AANP voice-box did emit a grumble or two was on the rare occasions that a West Ham nib did fly out of position – as instead of haring away to take advantage of the vacated space, our lot continued to shovel the ball backwards, egads.

But by and large, this seemed to be a game of probing and careful nudging of chess pieces, with much responsibility on the shoulders of Messrs Lucas and Ndombele to produce the necessary fancy footwork that might drag opponents out of position. They struggled to break us down; we struggled to break them down; the game turned on some flat-footed defending from a corner.

3. Skipp

I’m not sure if it says anything too complimentary about the rest of the rabble, but with each passing game I’m increasingly inclined to think young Master Skipp the most important cog in the lilywhite machine.

He certainly seems to be one of the few on the payroll willing to do his damnedest for the cause, and several of his Fly-In-Now-Discuss-Later challenges were again in evidence today, indicating an admirable willing.

However, rather alarmingly I also noted a chink in the young bean’s armour, which, once seen, was rather difficult to unsee, if you get my drift. Namely, when the opposition attack, while our centre-backs glance upwards and attach themselves to the most appropriate attacking body – Romero to Antonio, Dier to Benrahma and so forth – Skipp appears not to appreciate the importance of picking up the second wave as it were, the sort of chappies who make a later dash into the box from midfield.

This was particularly evident when Soucek had an unchallenged header in the first half, and happened on another occasion in the first half (although if you want the names and addresses of the witnesses I’m afraid you’ll have to look elsewhere).

Hardly a fatal flaw in young Skipp’s constitution, but it did strike me that some kindly soul ought at some point to tap him on the shoulder and mention that next time an opposing midfielder puts his head down and beelines towards goal, it might be more effective to pump the arms and beeline alongside him, rather than slow to a jog and watch from afar.

That apart, Skipp was as honest as ever. He doesn’t necessarily seem to know quite what to do when up in the opposition area, and his passing hardly scythes through opposing teams – but as neither of those elements are exactly key to his output I think we can wave them by without too much fuss.

4. Odd Refereeing Decisions

Regular diners at the AANP table will be aware that I’m not generally inclined to bash referees, they being only human and the whole practice of interrogating their decisions being, to my mind, not really cricket.

However, VAR is a different kettle of fish, as this allows for – and indeed is created entirely in order to – eradicating human errors by those on the pitch. So, when the Ndombele affair in the first half was waved away as ‘No Penalty’ it would be no exaggeration to say that I popped a blood vessel, hit the roof and turned the air purple with a shower of the fruitiest profanities.

And to my dying day I will consider myself entirely just in having done so. Irrespective of what Ndombele was doing (and frankly the chap seemed to malfunction, treading on the ball with his standing foot if my eyes did not deceive), the fact remains that the defender did not touch the ball, but instead made contact with his leg. The net effect of which was that Ndombele went sprawling as the ball rolled merrily on its way.

In real-time this was rather a messy sequence of affairs, so one understands the on-pitch referee taking one look and deciding he had better things to do; but how the blazes VAR missed this is absolutely beyond me. How the hell was that not a penalty?

That apoplexy having taken the best part of an hour to subside, the AANP blood was again made to boil when Senor Romero was shown the yellow card for, as far as I could tell, the heinous crime of bending over a prostrate opponent and shouting at him. If he had shouted at the ref, I would have fully understood. If he had fouled the player, one would have vaguely followed the ref’s train of thought.

But Romero did none of the above, for heaven’s sake! He won the ball cleanly (a throw-in was awarded), then entered into frank discussion with him – and was cautioned for this! It mattered little in the grand scheme of things, but let that not distract from the fact that it was utter rot and the sort of nonsense for which the ref ought really to taken out the back and given a good thrashing.

The Ndombele incident would presuably have pretty radically altered the timeline if a penalty had been awarded, but even allowing for this, the whole production struck me as a fairly even affair, and, gallingly, one that we certainly ought not to have lost, and probably should have one.

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