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Spurs match reports

Preton N.E. 0-3 Spurs: Three Tottenham Talking Points

1. Son

“That’ll do,” would presumably be the anthem at Casa Son this weekend, after that rousing exhibition. Those in the broadcast studios seemed pretty eager to advertise this as something far greater. Itching to herald the return of Peak Sonny, it seemed to me. Which one understands I suppose, for nothing attracts the masses like some overbeefed headline, but the reality struck me as being a tad more mundane – to wit, this was good, wholesome stuff but still some way from the Sonny of recent years.

Not to denigrate the young lemon’s goals, for they were amongst the finest of their vintage. ‘Aplomb’ doesn’t really do either justice, as both were despatched with a whole glut of plombs.

The warning signs had been there. In the first half on a couple of occasions he had adopted that pose of old, squeezing the ball from his feet, giving himself a yard or two and whipping the thing for all he was worth. The Preston goalkeeper had made a bit of a drama of blocking them off, seeming to dance all around them even when they were being rammed straight down his gullet. His closest chums had no doubt feared for him in anticipation of a moment when such shots were directed to more eastern or western extremes.

And in the second half it came to pass. Sonny married dead-eyed, bottom-corner accuracy to that whippy technique, and at that point one would have forgiven the Preston GK bod for stuffing his possessions into a bag, slinging it over his shoulder and clocking off for the evening.

Son’s first was absolutely top-notch stuff by just about any metric you care to think of. The poor old Preston defender who trotted out to challenge him would probably have thought that from about 25 yards the chances of significant damage ranked somewhere between ‘Moderate’ and ‘Low’, but this did not take into account the fact that Son was about to unleash a shot for the ages.

It was one of those that starts its journey gaily swinging well outside the line of the post, and then injects one heck of a plot twist, veering back into focus and inside the framework. For added panache it even ended up in the bottom corner, the footballing equivalent of shooting someone a look of quiet superiority. I can’t quite remember whether the Preston goalkeeper bothered to throw in a dive, but if he did it would have been strictly for ornamental purposes only.

The second goal was less about artistic merit and more a tale of clinical goalscoring. A scribe who simply wants to communicate the essentials and get on with their evening might sum it up as “Left-foot, close range”, which I suppose would get full marks for veracity, but would rather short-change the public. It may have all happened in the blink of an eye, but there was actually a decent amount of spadework to be done from the moment Perisic flicked the ball into Son’s path. A touch to control, a pirouette to shift the old balance from hither to thither, another touch to set the thing just so – all this was crammed into a single frame, and before you knew it Sonny was leathering the thing. By this point one rather felt for that hapless Preston goalkeeper as he dabbed a mournful glove at the ball whizzing past him.

So in terms of goals scored and the manner in which the aforementioned was undertaken, this was pretty sparkling stuff. Focus only on the goals, and you could – as did the BBC mob – make quite the song and dance about how all of Son’s woes were now behind him and he was now once again the master of all he surveyed.

However, not to put too great a dampener on things but while his finishing boots clicked smoothly into gear in that second half, various of the other crucial elements seemed not quite to have landed. The fleet-footed dribbles through crowded areas did not quite strike oil. Those gallops of his from deep and into wide open spaces rather spluttered and came to a halt. In short, this seemed not so much the Son of old as a pretty impressive attempted clone, which on the surface had it nailed, but on closer inspection still required that a few glitches be ironed out.

Nevertheless, a couple of goals against lower-league fluff were the sort of thing any capable doctor might have ordered. Bash out something similar in a week against Man City and we really can give the hands a gleeful rub and start referring back to his output of seasons past.

2. Sessegnon

And perhaps the gentle nature of the opponents fed the thinking of Our Glorious Leader in opting for Sessegnon on the left, as an opportunity for the young fellow to cast aside his cares and make a goodish bit of hay.

Alas, with each passing game Sessegnon strikes me increasingly as one of those eggs for whom no amount of assistance will make much of a dent. One can only bang on about potential for so long, what? At some point the fellow will have to puff out his chest and start playing like a wing-back of near-enough Champions League standard. As with Sonny, one would have thought that lower-league fluff would provide a decent platform.

Instead, I noted fairly early on in proceedings a rather gloomy correlation between Sessegnon arriving Stage Left to deliver his lines, and our move, whatever it happened to be, immediately breaking down. If he tried to take on his man, he failed. If he tried to deliver a cross, he failed. I didn’t witness it, so cannot be sure, but have a feeling that if he had tried to write his own name or recite the alphabet, he would have pretty quickly come a cropper, and trudged off with that usual, melancholy expression that is becoming so familiar.

If this is to be his lot in life – I mean filling in on the left in the occasional low-stakes jaunt – then I suppose we can all muddle through. Make polite noises and avoid any awkward conversations about where the hell we would be should the Perisic engine ever splutter to a halt. But if Sessegnon is ever to develop and progress into a first-choice ripsnorter of Rose-esque quality then he really needs to get a wriggle on.

The occasional 8-out-of-10 would be a solid start, and really, by this stage he ought to be stringing together several of those consecutively. Instead, Sessegnon seems rarely to elevate himself above a 6, and more typically, as last night, he registers a performance so ordinary that it feels kinder not to rate him but to gloss over his presence altogether, and bang on a bit about Son and Danjuma and whatnot instead. With that Destiny fellow apparently crossing t’s and dotting i’s out on loan in Italy, it might be that the remaining few months of the season represent Sessegnon’s last stand in lilywhite.

3. Subs

With the game near enough won, Conte did what any right-thinking bean would do, and swapped around the pieces on the board. In fact, Conte had already licked his lips and exercised his creative juices, with the selection of Perisic as the central attacker, but the second goal brought a slew of changes that frankly had me struggling to keep up.

Of course, Danjuma was the most fascinating sight, the entirety of AANP’s knowledge of the chap prior to his arrival deriving from one of those computer games one ought to know better than to dip into.

He seemed to make a solid stab at things, what? Full of beans, and no qualms about waving a few angry limbs at whomever was in earshot and calling a spade a spade. His very first involvement was pretty breezy stuff – giving and going, that sort of jolly rot, and very nearly finding himself clean through.

He didn’t have to wait too long for his moment of glory either, and while even his closest family members would struggle to build an argument suggesting that his strike was an aesthetic masterpiece, his goal was nevertheless a triumph for such virtues as arriving in the designated spot at the designated time, and generally sharpening one’s elbows and showing a willingness to pop into the area and have a sniff.

Less glamorously, and a fair few yards further south, I thought this was the best little cameo from young O. Skipp Esq. to which we have been treated all season. Having looked quite the appropriate fit whenever he featured last season, this time around things have been more stop than start and more miss than hit. A lack of game-time has obviously not helped, but last night he popped up with all the usual willing, and then, impressively, proceeded to get just about everything right every time he touched the ball.

One doesn’t read too much into these things of course, as there can be few gentler introductions in life than coming on when two goals up against a lower-league side, but nevertheless, having witnessed Bentancur shimmy about the place for an hour looking comfortably better than all around him, it was heartening to see young Skipp similarly do all that one would hope of the competent, modern midfielder.

And finally, as ever, young Gil came on and tore around like an over-excited puppy. A few neat passes, some quick feet and a handy contribution to the third goal represented a decent ten minutes’ work from the likeable young sprout. Despite a few eye-catching recent performances it appears that Gil remains a few notches down the pecking order, with rumblings of a loan move echoing about the place. Such is life, I suppose, but I do rather enjoy seeing these glimpses, and would welcome more.

All things considered, this was a pretty satisfying evening’s work. A second successive clean sheet, a rest for Kane and goals for Sonny, a debut goal for Danjuma and some decent substitute contributions make for as serene a Cup away day as one can imagine. I don’t mind admitting that I put in a worried gulp or two when I saw we’d been drawn away to a Championship side, but even during the slightly stodgy first half there was never a point at which we looked in danger of fouling the thing up.

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Spurs match reports

Spurs 1-0 Portsmouth: Three Tottenham Talking Points

1. Gil

AANP has never really been a dog person. No objection to the fine beasts, you understand, I’ve just not really got much connection to them. As such, happy to let them go about their business, and have them extend the same courtesy back. ‘Non-aggression pact’ about sums it up, and that’s the way it’s been for a few decades, until my sister recently came into possession of a pup of some breed unknown to me.

I mention this gripping aside because the sister’s pup’s behaviour is most prominently characterised by boundless energy and unshakeable optimism, in relation to whatever task it is approaching. And watching young Bryan Gil treating his every involvement in today’s game as if it were the most fun he had ever experienced, I was struck by his similarity to the aforementioned bonhomous canine.

Gil has now been a lilywhite 18 months, in which time he has not yet made 18 appearances – but if anyone thought that these deliberate oversights on the part of the Top Brass would dampen his spirits they will have some pretty comprehensive re-thinking to do. Rather than let week after week of inactivity (and a release on loan for six months) chip away at his mood, it seems simply to have heightened his excitement. I get the impression that each time he was omitted he simply became even more beside himself with elation, reasoning that his big chance was therefore even likelier to arrive the following week.

A charming attitude, and one he seemed determined to advertise to the entire viewing public once the game started. If he were not in possession he eagerly buzzed around seeking it; and once he received it he wasted no time in flicking through the repertoire to find the most effective means of making a positive dent in things. Watching his infectious enthusiasm I rather wished someone would throw a stick in his radius, just to see if he would bound after it.

Enthusiasm on its own, however, is not worth a great deal unless married to a certain degree of effectiveness (thought processes around this hypothesis might be aided by reflection on Oliver Skipp’s recent performances). Merrily, Gil was, for the second consecutive game, amongst the more eye-catching young pills on display.

We were treated at various points to stepovers and whatnot, and quick jinking feet, but also crisp and aware shot passes, the sort that bisect opposing bodies and give a sense of urgency.

Gil has pretty swiftly elevated himself to the sort who quickens the pulse every time he receives the ball – and given that a fortnight ago he had not yet made a League start for us, this is one heck of a trajectory. All sorts of complications stand in the way of him becoming a regular any time soon, and I doubt that any amongst us would try arguing against Kulusevski waltzing straight back into the cast list for the visit of Woolwich next week, but Gil has taken his opportunities with aplomb, and is looking an increasingly viable option.

2. Sarr

A spot of post-match hobnobbing with various Spurs-supporting beans suggests that I might be ploughing a slightly lonely furrow with this one, but I thought that young Sarr once again earned himself a respectful salute.

“Neat and tidy” seemed to be the anthem on his lips, and not a bad philosophy either, to bring into a day’s work as a slightly defensive-minded midfield bod. His midweek cameo had featured ticks in such columns as ‘Interceptions’, ‘Tackles’ and ‘Passes (sub-heading: Unfussy and Prompt)’. And, clearly one of those fellows who thinks that if he’s onto a good thing he might as well just keep peddling it over and over, he brought that approach from his substitute appearance vs Palace into his starting appearance vs Pompey.

With Skipp seemingly keen to elbow his way into the final third at every opportunity, Sarr played yang to that particular ying, positioning himself back at basecamp as something of a security guard for the midfield.

As against Palace, who were dead and buried by the time he emerged, one is hesitant to lavish too much praise upon a performance against a team that I don’t think managed two shots on target. Nevertheless, one can only hope, when one flings a young buck into the arena, that he will do all asked of him and to a decent standard, and in this respect it was a pretty successful afternoon’s work for Sarr.

3. Kane

Nevertheless, this was yet another of those performances that was drifting slightly aimlessly in the first half. One could see that various in lilywhite were remembering vague ideas and trying to apply them – Sessegnon popped in a stream of crosses that didn’t really hit the mark; Davies repeatedly trotted forward with a determined look on his map, before passing harmlessly sideways; Son dipped his shoulder and put his head down, before being robbed off the ball and left in a heap. And so on. Things were not really clicking. Things were not even doing whatever it is happens in the moments before they click. Life was just passing us all by.

So yet again it was left to Kane to drop a little deeper and perform his weekly alchemy. When he received the ball, 25 or so yards from goal, it appeared that a scene regularly witnessed was about to unfold yet again, for many in lilywhite had had possession in these sort of spots, and faced with pretty much every Portsmouth player stationed between ball and goal.

And yet, somehow, where all others had tried and failed to make any useful inroad, Kane simply forced his way through with that curious mixture of brute force, classy touch and sheer act of will. Before one could say “Was that an intentional one-two?” he had in one movement received the ball back from Sessegnon, escaped his marker, dug the ball out of his feet and set himself for a shot.

I suppose it hardly sounds like rocket science when spelled out like that, but yet again it was all of a level a country mile above that being produced by anyone else.

There then, of course, followed a shot like an Exocet missile, the sort of finish that would have had us gasping in a giddy mix of shock and joy if it had come from the clog of pretty much anyone else in our number – but when produced by Kane simply prompts a knowing nod, as if to say, “As expected, what?”

It was a moment worthy of winning a game, and helpfully changed the dynamics of what might potentially have been an awkward scrap, the sort that prompts dubious murmurings about the players, manager, chairman and so on. It also sets the chap up nicely to become our record scorer against slightly more notable opponents next weekend.

The second half in general did see an improved performance, the general sense after the opener being that we were more likely to score again than concede. While an all-singing, all-dancing, multi-goal salvo would have been fun, safe negotiation of these early rounds is pretty much all that is needed.

(Not that any of this detracted from the giddy excitement of three younger members of the AANP clan, visiting from Australia of all places, to see their first ever Spurs game – a charming reminder of how the lifelong attachment begins.)

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Spurs match reports

Palace 0-4 Spurs: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. Were we actually any good? Are we actually any good?

Given that the pre-match mutterings at AANP Towers were to wonder how the devil we would ever score again, the output a couple of hours later could not have been a more pleasant surprise.

By the time Doherty popped up to make it 3-0 the matter was essentially concluded, all remaining perspiration being expended merely because regulation required it, rather than out of any sense of mystery as to how matters might resolve. But here’s a thing – Doherty’s goal, sealing the game, came 20 minutes after Kane’s opener, meaning that the entire operation was essentially contained from start to finish within that short burst.

Thereafter Palace simply shrugged collective shoulders and moped about the place waiting for the final bell – you know the spirit of willing has disappeared when your centre-backs are being outmuscled by Sonny of all people.

And while that 20-minute, three-goal blitz was absolute manna from heaven, it did make one tilt the head at an inquisitive angle, and wonder whether our heroes have it in them to string together a full 90-minute performance.

Casting the mind back a bit, we started fairly punchily. Combinations here, corners there – it might not exactly have been thrill-a-minute stuff, but at least we took the starter’s gun as a prompt to bob onto the front-foot, rather than the usual business of sitting back, dozing gently and waiting to concede twice.

Disturbingly, however, this early fizz lasted somewhere between 15-20 minutes before going the way of all flesh. Thereafter, Palace pinned us back and the rest of the half seemed to consist of them pummelling away at us, with our heroes occasionally emerging to gasp for breath before the sequence was repeated. And this rather sorry pattern appeared likely to continue in the second half – when out of nowhere we took the lead and the 20-minute blitz ensued.

With our tails up and a healthy lead tucked away, our lot, naturally, looked transformed. And if we continue to look that way, and play that way, then not a whisper of complaint will emanate from these parts. But with the second half blitz coming from nowhere, I do still give the lip a nervous chew, because the general pattern of things at the end of that first half was no improvement on previous games.

Twenty-minute jollies are all well and good, but they won’t bring a three- or four-goal harvest every week. The rub of the thing is that our heroes need somehow to learn the mystical alchemy that is performing well for an entire 90 minutes. In a curious way, the random blitz of Palace in the second half – coming against the run of play, and yet doing enough within a short period to completely kill the match – highlighted what’s wrong as well as what’s right with our mob.

2.  Kane

Of course, only bothering to turn up for twenty minutes is a dashed sight easier when you’ve got leading the line an unstoppable beast operating at the peak of his powers and revving up all four cylinders. A rotter he may forever remain in the eyes of AANP, but by golly Harry Kane does sometimes elevate his play a good few levels above the mere mortals surrounding him.

One might be tempted to dismiss the header that got things going as the least of his contributions, and in a way I suppose it was, but even that was a pretty impressive feat. In particular I was rather arrested by the natty fashion in which Kane proceeded with take-off nice and early, then just sort of hung around in the air for about a minute and a half, taking in the South London sights from his vantage point of approximately ten feet up.

By the time Perisic’s cross actually reached him he was already well established as master of that particular realm, and merely took time out to flex a muscle or two and send flying the nearest Palace defenders, whose own measly attempts at doing the aerial thing had them no more than about six inches off the ground.

It was mightily impressive stuff. I’ve seen that Ronaldo chap do something similar. Heaven knows how it’s done – I’ve always found gravity, and physics and whatnot get in the way whenever I attempt it – but from the moment Perisic’s cross took flight there was a joyous inevitability about the way things would pan out.

The second looked even better. Young Bryan Gil fairly pinged the ball at him (which is by no means a criticism of the young frijole, for the situation absolutely demanded that the ball be pinged at a decent lick, or it would not have reached basecamp).

The ping having been effected, Kane’s task may have looked simple enough on paper – “Control the thing and spank it” – but all constituent parts of the exercise were actually mightily taxing, and the odds for most strikers would have been long. As it happened, however, Kane made it all look about as difficult as tickling the tummy of sleeping kitten.

For a chap whose close control often seems to me, at close quarters, to be a rather glaring fault in his DNA, that first touch was scarcely believable, consisting as it did of simultaneously killing the ball and delivering sufficient nudge that he didn’t have to break stride before lamping it. And then, as if simply to show off, Kane did not even bother to surface for a quick three-sixty, to find his bearings and locate X on the map. He simply put his head down and blasted the thing, into the best possible spot and at the hardest possible force.

Thereafter, with goals to his name, he unstrapped the pads and grabbed the new ball, so to speak, experimenting with his creative side by dropping deep and spraying the ball hither and yonder, for his chums to get in on the act. His pass released Sonny for what eventually became Doherty’s goal, and officially he also has his name pinned to the assist for the fourth – although that was possibly the least remarkable of all his contributions.

All told, it was one heck of a performance, an absolute masterclass.

3. Gil

Meanwhile, off to the right, young Senor Gil delivered possibly his longest and quite likely his best display in lilywhite.

As ever, from the off he was all buck and vim, bounding around like a lamb being released into a meadow specifically designed for the frolic. As mentioned above, our opening fifteen or so actually constituted something of a highlight, and at the centre – or, more accurately, the right – of much that was good was young Gil.

His interplay with Doherty, although rough around the edges, as befits a newly-formed and rarely-practised double-act, had about it plenty of energy and invention; and when left to his own devices Gil seemed delighted to have the opportunity to throw in a few stepovers and whip in something meaty.

He missed as well as hitting, particularly in the first half, various attempts to hoodwink or simply outrun his man ending in a battle lost, but the cut of his gib certainly ranked amongst the more likeable on display.

Like ten others in lilywhite, he faded as the first half wore on; but it was the second half that really was the making of the man. For a start, that opening goal, advertised above as “Coming from nowhere”, more accurately came from the size fives (presumably) of Gil. Receiving the ball centrally, with back to goal and a good 30 yards from goal, and, more pertinently, with no fewer than three Palace sorts in close attendance, Gil ducked and weaved a bit, held onto the ball, held off the Palace search party, and played into space the advancing Perisic.

It may all sound simple enough, but I was rather taken by it, given that he might easily have been muscled out of things, or opted for the safer option of simply popping the thing back towards halfway. (As a fun aside, watch the replay of Kane’s header and you might also spot both Gil and Perisic themselves jumping as if to head, at the critical moment, which rather tickled me.)

As mentioned, Gil also played to perfection the pass that set up Kane’s second. Here he deserves shiny little gold stars first for spotting the opportunity; then for having the nous to realise that the ball would have been to driven at Kane at a fair lick, in order to bring home any harvest; and thirdly for taking the risk to attempt it, when the slightest inaccuracy for that eye-of-the-needle stuff would have ceded possession.
 
And thereafter Gil rather enjoyed himself, and we him. Shimmies, shoulder-dips, quick passes – the young bean managed the game without getting carried away. He will presumably remain for some time one of the lesser cabs on the rank, but who amongst us wouldn’t want to see more of him as the weeks roll on?

4. Skipp

Less impressive was young Master Skipp. Not to chide the honest fellow, for he has delivered the goods often enough, and frankly he did well to clamber out of all the extenuating circumstances that engulfed him – recent injuries, and lack of match sharpness, and so on.

In the opening seconds Skipp actually hinted at great things, picking the ball up on halfway and setting off on a hike deep into enemy territory to set up a half-chance. I duly gave the hands a rub and settled in, for great things appeared to await.

Alas, they’ll have to come another day. Thereafter, Skipp couldn’t take two steps without making a wrong decision. He did not lack willing, which is always good to see, but generally erred in just about everything he did. I did feel for him when received his yellow card mind, Perisic having fed him an unnecessarily obscure sort of pass, forcing him to have a bit of a lunge, but it summed up his evening.

A shame, because with Bissouma miles off his own high standards, Bentancur out and Hojbjerg rarely given a chance to catch his breath, an on-song Skipp would be akin to a pretty handy new signing. He will, presumably, have a chance to atone in the Cup on Saturday.

5. Sarr

As if to hammer home the fact that Skipp was a long way below par, young Sarr came on and didn’t put a foot wrong for thirty minutes.

AANP being a man of honour and principle, in the same way that I excuse Skipp his aberrations and acknowledge the mitigating circumstances, I similarly caution against too much enthusiasm for Sarr, whose admittedly strong performance came in pretty welcoming circumstances. He bounded on at 3-0 and with Palace having thrown in the towel and begun looking rather longingly at the ref to put an end to things, and in that context one would hardly say that this was ever going to be the most fraught half hour of his career.

Nevertheless, where Skipp was mistiming tackles and being caught in possession, Sarr nailed his t’s and made sensible use of p. Again, one would expect him to feature at the weekend, and I hope he does so from the off, rather than a 30-minute cameo.

Sarr had barely featured in thinking at the start of the season, when the Bentancur-Hojbjerg-Skipp-Bissouma quartet were widely cast as our midfield options, but if he can make a better fist of the ugly stuff than any of the aforementioned then he’s a pretty useful option in the second half-and-a-bit of the season.

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Spurs news, rants Spurs transfers

Yves Bissouma: Three Tottenham Talking Points

1. Joyous Tidings

If you happened to notice AANP bounding about the place in particularly bonny, blithe and gay fashion in the last week or so I’d congratulate you on your perceptive nature. Every now and then our lot unveil a new signing that puts no end of buck in the step, and the scrawl of Yves Bissouma across the headed notepaper has done precisely that.

I mentioned in my last tuppence worth, a couple of weeks back, that I’m not generally one to devote my energies to watching opponents, being far too consumed with monitoring the every move of those in lilywhite. As a result, it’s something of an event when an opposing player catches the AANP eye during a Tottenham game, but in this category young Monsieur Bissouma can proudly step up to collect a gong and clear his throat for a victory speech.

The job he did when we travelled to Brighton last season, was quite something to behold. Memory suggests that while some other chappie pinched the last-minute goal that weighted the scoreline in Brighton’s favour, it was Bissouma’s security work in the central areas that won the thing. In particular, I wouldn’t wonder if that rotter Harry Kane greeted Bissouma’s arrival in N17 by bunging him over the head with a brick, such was the job done by the latter on the former in that match. Whenever the ball was shoved in the general radius of Kane, Bissouma was upon him in an instant, sucking the life – and most of our collective creative juices – out of him for the entirety of the gig.

And while admittedly one random shindig in the sun last season is not the sort of stuff upon which one ought to base a fully-fledged opinion, the bespectacled sorts who crunch numbers have rather more weight to throw behind the chap. For a start, the numbers have him down as having made more frequent tackles and interceptions than anyone else in the league last season, which lends a touch more gravity to the argument and has me nodding an admiring head.

Of course, he might still swan into the team and prove a dreary letdown (he wouldn’t be the first in the hallowed corridors of the Lane) but frankly the odds are stacked in his favour. A player who looked in charge of much he surveyed last season, with a couple of years of Premier League experience and, at 25, one would presume a fair amount of oxygen to in his lungs, represents one heck of a deal at £25m.

Indeed, he even popped up with a rather eye-catching solo goal in the Cup fixture at N17 last season; although my spies assure me that such activities are the exception rather than the norm when it comes to Bissouma’s list of bullet points. Nice to know that he’s capable of such things, of course, but the fellow has been designed by Mother Nature for more defensive-minded inputs.

And that’s fine by me. While Bentancur would collect the ball and dreamily pop it along to the better-placed, Hojbjerg last season grafted away but often seemed to be operating on the very last couple of drops of energy wrung from his tissues. The addition therefore of a bona fide midfield enforcer is pretty exciting stuff, particularly given that in our neck of the woods midfielders tend to be the creative sorts who’d rather not waggle too many defensive legs if they can get away with it.

2. How He Fits In

The central options next season therefore appear to read: Bentancur, Bissouman, Skipp and Hojbjerg, the first two of whom will presumably rise, cream-like to the top, but the latter two of whom have respectively the energy and nous to deputise at the drop of any hats and with minimal disruption or – crucially – dip in quality.

One might, of course, quibble, that between this quartet there is still something of a dearth of creative tricks and party-pieces that make the eyes pop and opposition fall apart at the seams, but that’s not really the point. Conte-ball seems to require a central midfield pairing that neutralises all threats and shifts us from back- to front-foot in the blink of an eye, and in both respects Bissouma appears to be precisely the sort of egg about whom exciting montages are spliced together.

(Some might also point that the potential incoming of a certain free-of-charge alumnus in central midfield would add a degree of creativity, and the option for tactical tweaks away from 3-4-3, but that’s a debate for another time.)

3. Our Changing Transfer System

Part of the thrill of all this to-ing and fro-ing is the pretty radical departure it signals from the traditional way of doing things in N17. We’ve been raised (rather cruelly it seems to me) on a diet of tortuous transfer sagas stretching the entirety of the summer, before a last-minute panic to complete deals, and the signing of a couple of unproven bods in their early twenties with potential sell-on value.

Witness the current contrast. Three deals inked and ready to go before the longest day of the year has stretched its legs; each of whom are proven in their positions. This rather than being the sort for whom we wait, with fingers crossed and lips pursed, to see if they’ll fulfil their potential.

Frankly, the good sense of this summer’s dealings thus far, coupled with the no-nonsense way in which players have been identified as the best available to meet the necessary criteria, makes this seem like a game of Football Manager rather than the Way of Things in Hotspur-land.

The immediacy of it all – buying proven players who can waltz straight into the starting line-up and will improve our league position in this coming season, rather than three years hence – is both unusual and jolly entertaining. Frankly, it represents a degree of sensible thinking I had not thought possible with our lot. But then, Conte has seemingly had that effect in all he does about the place. And Grandmaster Levy, rather sensationally, is now backing the honest fellow! Long may the sanity continue!

(Not wanting to gloss over the potential seriousness of the legal case hanging over him, but with no information available it’s near-impossible to opine one way or t’other at present, so the ramblings above are purely football-related)

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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