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Spurs match reports

Spurs 1-3 Brentford: Three Tottenham Talking Points

1. That Rather Enjoyable First Half

Say what you like about young Mason – and this particular pen has scribbled a few choice descriptions in recent weeks – but when it comes to binning what went before and trying something completely novel, he is not lacking in pluck and vim. Where Conte would stick to 3-4-3 even if his life depended on some minute alteration, Mason scatters around new approaches like confetti. Having flirted with some distant cousin of 4-4-2 in recent weeks, yesterday he made a pretty abrupt pivot off into the land of 4-2-3-1, earning an admiring glance from AANP Towers in the process.

And for 45 minutes, the thing operation tootled along pretty swimmingly. More goals would have helped of course, particularly if you are the sort who assesses these things with rather dead-eyed steeliness, caring only for wins won, no matter the fashion in which they are achieved (or, in other words, if your name is Jose or Antonio).

But for those of us who would have gladly donated a liver just to see some entertaining football at some point over the last three years dash it, that we only scored one goal was a pretty incidental footnote. The real headline was that there was genuinely enjoyable football on show.

No doubt Brentford played into our hands in that first half. They seemed as surprised as anyone else to see our lot take to the field with four fully functioning attackers primed and ready, and could regularly be sighted scampering back into position with looks of concern etched all over their maps, repeatedly undermanned whenever our heroes counter-attacked.

Members of our attacking quartet at various points took turns to station themselves in cunning pockets of space that seemed to fall under the jurisdiction of neither the Brentford defence or midfield, and also took to gaily swapping positions, looking for all the world as if this football business could actually be rather a lark, which is a pretty rare sight around these parts.

Moreover, once in possession, we positively brimmed with exciting and innovative ideas about how to jig all the way into the penalty area in order to get shots away. There were crosses, and one-twos, and AANP’s personal favourite, the neat diagonal passes played inside a defender. That our only goal was from a free-kick was rather a curiosity, because Sonny, Danjuma and even Emerson Royal each seemed to come within a well-placed Brentford limb of adding to the tally by virtue of some well-crafted routine during that opening 45. Frankly I didn’t know we had it in us.

2. Bissouma

The front four may have been the principals, but a pretty vital cog in this 4-2-3-1 was the 2, and Messrs Skipp and Bissouma were in imperious form, at least in that first half.

Bissouma carried out his duties with the relish of a fellow who wakes up every morning determined to wring every last ounce of pleasure from his day. Where some might react with a scowl to being told to spend all day tidying up in midfield, Bissouma flipped the thing on its head, treating every crowded coming-together as an opportunity to display his full range of nifty footwork. If Brentford johnnies descended upon him en masse and with nefarious intent, he simply pirouetted out of trouble, as often as not picking some eye-catching pass at the end of it all too, as an unexpected treat.

He threw in his usual needless crunch at one point, earning the standard yellow card that seems to accompany his every appearance in lilywhite, but that aside, he generally made the grubby job of midfield guard-dog look a lot more glamorous and elegant than one would have thought possible. As with much else on display in that first half, it gave a bit of a whiff of a potentially brighter future around these parts, if the right sort of bean can come along and make a fist of the old wheat-chaff separation routine.

3: Skipp

Young Skipp, while perhaps not quite as easy upon the eye, was also doing a heck of a job fighting the good fight within that deep-lying midfield pair. If it were Bissouma’s job to tiptoe out of increasingly complex situations and ever-diminishing spaces, Skipp’s role seemed to be simply to hunt down loose balls wherever they happened to spring up.

The young whelp’s motivation appeared in no way dimmed by his billing as the less refined of the pair, he seeming to be all in favour of spending his afternoon racing off to win the thing over and over again. Young Skipp also appeared to be blessed with a decent sense of dramatic timing, typically leaving his interventions until the last possible moment before haring in from distance to nick the ball away, amidst a flailing opposition leg.

It will no doubt go under the radar, but on one such occasion, having rolled out his nick-of-time routine to win a 50-50, he was dumped to the floor by an opponent by way of reward, bringing about the free-kick from which we scored. Kane might have hit the thing, Davies might have shoved the laddie aside in the wall; but Skipp earned the opportunity in the first place.

A shame, then, that his eagerness to show a spot of initiative later on went pretty seriously awry, resulting in the Brentford third. Skipp’s intent in this incident had been pretty wholesome, collecting a throw-in deep inside his own half, with a view, no doubt, to setting in motion some campaign for an equaliser. However, he got off to a poor start, taking his eye off the package and letting it bobble past him, which rather set the tone for how the whole incident would play out. While his attempt to bring the situation back under control by means of a spot of wriggling and opponent-dodging was laudable in theory, it met with some pretty significant obstacles in practice – not least being shoved to the ground and having his belongings pilfered from him.

Not his finest hour, but it says much of Skipp’s general attitude and contribution that there were not too many irate fingers wagging in his direction. “Accidents will happen,” seemed to be the gist of the reaction, on realising the identity of the culprit on this occasion. Young Skipp has a fair amount of credit in the bank. Our multitude of woes over the course of this season have many roots, but the efforts of O. Skipp Esq. is not among them.

4. Davies and Lenglet

By contrast, Messrs Davies and Lenglet do not get off so lightly. Even in the first half, in which, thanks to the efforts of those positioned north of them, they were not too onerously employed, they still seemed to make rather a production of the fairly menial tasks thrown their way. However, being swept along by the general gaiety of the occasion one brushed it aside.

There was no brushing it aside in the second half however, as that well-earned one-nil lead became a two-one deficit without Brentford having to do much more than wander into our penalty area and peer about the place, thanks to the idiotic bumblings of Davies and Lenglet.

That the equaliser should have been allowed to happen still makes the blood boil, a good twenty-four hours and more after the event. Brentford dully wibbled the ball from somewhere vaguely left to somewhere vaguely right, and with two defenders and a goalkeeper barring the path to goal, an immediate equaliser ought to have been one of the lowest-ranked of likely outcomes. That some danger was imminent was not in doubt, for the chappie was in our area, and behind the scenes various of our party could be seen scuttling to and fro to prevent any harm occurring once the ball was passed along and Stage Two of the operation got underway. But any immediate shot seemed to carry minimal threat.

And yet somehow, Davies and Lenglet, intent on a programme of utterly passive non-interference, contrived not only to allow that Mbuemo to have a shot, but between them constructed the flimsiest conceivable barrier. Had Mbuemo struck the thing like an Exocet, or had he shimmied and tricked until they lost their footing, one might have held up the hands and done him some homage. But the blighter did none of the above. Frankly, I’ve seen passes hit with more ferocity than his shot. And yet Davies and Lenglet backed off him as if he brandished a machete, and then somehow allowed his shot a route through all four of their combined legs.

And if any in the paying galleries were expecting the following minutes to bring a display of contrition and redemption from this combo they were in for the sort of disappointment for which only a season of this dross can really prepare the soul. As Mbeumo was released for his second, he and Davies were neck and neck in a straightforward sprint for the ball. Mbuemo arguably had the advantage, already being well in his stride, but nevertheless one would have anticipated Davies having sufficient pace to keep within clattering distance of him, or at the very least manoeuvring his frame in that cunning way of the wiliest old devils, blocking off the route of Mbuemo and resulting in a satisfying display of arm-waving frustration. As previously, at the point of release, danger seemed fairly minimal.

Incredibly, however, Davies managed to concede a five-yard gap over a ten-yard sprint. I simply could not believe what I was watching. He moved as if he had hoisted one of his teammates onto his back and then attempted simply to get from A to B without falling over, no matter how long it took him. Anyone convinced that a Premier League footballer, when required to sprint twenty yards, might whir the legs until a hamstring pinged and a lung exploded would have wept in dismay.

I suppose if Davies had been remotely competent then Monsieur Lenglet would not have been dragged into this; but dragged into it he was, and he reacted by unleashing, of all things, his Ben Davies Tribute Act.

Having gawped in disbelief at the sight of Davies running as if through quicksand, the rescue act five yards inside him ran as if with lead in his boots. Moreover, having been gifted an unlikely second chance to intervene, by virtue of Mbuemo pausing – to compose his thoughts, and untangle his feet and whatnot, ahead of his shot – Lenglet then slid in as if to block the shot, but neglected to extend his leg fully. Had he done so, there was a pretty strong chance he might have effected some sort of block; but instead he seemed, when sliding in, to withdraw the limb in question, as if convinced at the last that it would be better simply to avoid interfering and let the Fates decide.

That we lost the thing was not, of course, solely down to the deficiencies of this rotten pair, maddening as they were. In the second half Brentford seemed to exercise a mite more caution in their approach, flinging fewer bodies forward and keeping staff numbers high at the back, a tweak that left our lot completely stumped. As mentioned, they were barely made to work for any of their goals; but as galling was the fact that the footloose and fancy-free approach of the first half was replaced by one of laboured build-up and generally blank looks in the second.

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Spurs match reports

Spurs 2-1 Brighton: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. Danjuma

Being the sort of chap who likes to keep an audience on their toes, I thought I’d begin with a spot of wittering on the rarely-sighted Danjuma, not least because he was the principal object of a spot of post-second goal gushing from yours truly yesterday.

It might not necessarily be the view clung to by the masses, but I was already greeting with boyish enthusiasm the energy of Danjuma, even before it led, in a slightly convoluted way, to our second goal.

Danjuma came bounding on with all the perk and vim of a man who had spent several months in a Conte-induced purgatory and had a few sackfuls of energy to release. In that respect I suppose he had much in common with Lucas Moura at Everton last week, but whereas Lucas channelled his efforts into imprinting his size nines across someone else’s shin, Danjuma’s approach wasn’t quite so lacking in a few spoonfuls of common sense.

Which is to say, in the first place, that he didn’t stamp on anyone – an obvious baseline, one might think, but nevertheless the sort of thing one can’t take for granted amongst a gang as low on the grey stuff as ours. Anyway, having confirmed the ability to chase everything that moved without getting himself sent off, what really grabbed the attention was the fact that, having buzzed from one outfield player to another in pursuit of the ball, Danjuma then turned everything upon its head by daring to chase down the Brighton goalkeeper as well.

This was front-page stuff. I had noted over the course of the game that our high press was being applied with a little more meaning than usual, but that once the ball beetled its way back to this ‘keeper, Steele, our lot tended to slam on the brakes, and subject him to little more than a beady eye.

No doubt this was part of a masterplan concocted by the Brains Trust. Something to do with cutting off angles, or not leaving gaps, or some other such gubbins. Be that as it may, Danjuma was clearly having none of it. Goodness knows what his superiors made of it, but the first chance he got he put his head down and fairly raced off towards that Steele fellow, leaving the latter in no doubt that the time for a pause and restorative break was long gone.

I don’t mind admitting that this sent a quiet thrill through me. After all, if one is going to press 90% of the way up the pitch, why not shrug the shoulders and go the distance?

It is probably important to note that Danjuma’s press did not in itself draw a mistake – Steele with ball at his feet is no Hugo Lloris, and simply funnelled the thing off to his nearest chum as if it were something done since he were knee-high. However, Danjuma’s lust for involvement, as well as drawing a satisfied nod from these parts, also seemed to have the infinitely useful knock-on effect of prompting everyone else in lilywhite to look at one other and murmur, “Well if he can do it, dash it, I might try as well!”

And so it happened that Danjuma’s charge on the ‘keeper was followed by Son charging at the next chappie in possession (Webster, apparently). This Webster fellow then popped along the hot potato sharpish to that Mitoma lad, who had Romero charging at him; and at this point all that charging paid dividends, as Romero emerged from the argument with his inventory reading: Size 5 Football (x1). And from there, within 3 passes, Kane was doing his thing and we were up 2-1.

The extent to which the goal can be attributed to Danjuma is of course the sort of debatable stuff that will sit right up there for centuries to come, alongside butterflies flapping their wings and causing cyclones and whatnot – but at a point in the game in which we were looking as likely as we’ve done for several weeks to craft a goal, I was glad to see Danjuma raise the energy level a notch and have some level of involvement in a goal.

2. Hojbjerg

A propos the goal, P-E Hojbjerg would no doubt have given the chin a slightly irritated scratch as he read the above, and rightly so, for it misses the point rather wildly to bang on all day about Danjuma chasing a back pass to little avail and then omitting to mention the critical pass that set up the goal.

But that, and more, was contributed by the same P-E H. Having been released by Sonny, Hojbjerg’s interest in affairs suddenly rocketed, as has often happened this season when he is granted temporary dispensation to rub shoulders with the elite in the final third. Off he galloped into the area, before, crucially, taking a deep breath or two, as I understand these Scandinavian types are fond of doing. This was an important move, because if he had simply attempted to pick out the only teammate in the box – my golden boy, Danjuma – he’d have had a dickens of a time manoeuvring the ball around four Brighton defenders to reach him.

Just as well that Hojbjerg’s fabled capacity to hear at bat-like frequencies kicked in, this no doubt allowing him to catch the heavy breathing of a lumbering Kane, arriving in the second wave. Hojbjerg effected his pass to perfection, a good ten yards behind everyone else, after which there still followed a pretty lengthy interval, as all in attendance waited a little longer for Kane to catch up, but when he did the fruits were ripe.

On a tangent, I have to admit that that pause – as the entire stadium took a sharp old intake of breath, and held it, before exploding – was one of the AANP highlights of the season.

Back to Hojbjerg, and a big old tick against his name, for the run, awareness and delivery. The problem, however, is that that same big tick is both preceded and followed by a couple of emphatic red crosses.

Not five minutes earlier, it had been Hojbjerg’s errant leg that thrust itself into the limelight for no good reason, clipping the twin limb of Mitouma inside the penalty area. Inadvertent it may have been, but in these days of constant and panoramic surveillance, one ought to be pretty darned sure about whether or not one will clip the leg of another in the area. The fact that the VAR spook gaily waved it on should not exonerate our man.

He followed up later in the piece by conceding a couple of pretty unnecessary transgressions – more clipping of legs, actually. And from one of these free-kicks the similarly bone-headed Lenglet played pretty fast and loose with the rules, grabbing at a shirt with two hands, which at the very least prompted those concerned to institute polite enquiries.

So much though I enjoy Hojbjerg’s spirit of willing and general fire-in-belly, and, of course, his contributions when let off the leash in the final third, I do wish he would focus a bit more on the basics within his own defensive game. But in a way, it rather sums up the chap – a mixture of valued contributions and lamentable, avoidable gaffes.

3. Skipp

Alongside Hojbjerg, young Master Skipp beavered away in his usual understated manner, and as ever I was all for it.

I suspect that beyond N17 few would afford him more than a shrug of the shoulders and a nonplussed look, but his lack of glamour ought not to mislead. Skipp keeps things ticking.

I suspect I have prattled on about this before, but I am particularly drawn to the fact that if a winning pass does not immediately present itself, he does not dwell or dither. The chap distributes as if on a timer. Speed – of distribution – is of the essence, in the mind of young Skipp. Whatever the circumstance, his motto is that gag about things being best done when done quickly, and if that means he should simply shovel the ball sideways or backwards then it’s fine by him, seemingly aware that there will be another day and another opportunity to show his full passing range.  

And it is quite some range. We saw a few weeks ago when he set Richarlison free for a disallowed goal, that he has in his armoury a pass of the 40-yard ilk, and he was at it again yesterday. Neither led to goals, but both – one in each half, from memory – found their man and helped turn defence into attack pretty neatly.

On top of which, he also set off on a couple of healthy, long-distance gallops, as circumstances dictated were prudent. Running at full pelt with the ball for 40 yards or more is pretty impressive stuff, and it all nudges towards the sense that here is a lad who might eventually grow into quite the all-round sort of bean.

4. Sonny

Not that there were any headlines for young Skipp. That was Sonny territory yesterday.

One might, I suppose, if in particularly curmudgeonly mood, complain that Sonny did little of note apart from score one and pop up with a spot of behind-the-scenes assistance for the second  – but this, to me, would be pretty rich stuff. The whole point of Sonny is to score and do a spot of behind-the-scenes lifting and shifting for others to score, so if he can check both boxes I think the appropriate reaction is a slap on the back and reminder that his bank account will be credited in due course.

His goal was an absolute dream. Different goals please in different ways of course, but Sonny in particular has long had a line in those curling efforts that start outside the post and curve inwards, leaving the goalkeeper fully extended and still falling short, for added aesthetic pleasure. I suppose part of the reason we see so few of them from him these days is that various opponents nowadays know better than to let him try that particular party-trick. It was a delight therefore, to see him unleash it once more, for old time’s sake.

And as mentioned, he also did his best, in understated fashion, towards the second. Once Romero had won possession near halfway, the ball was fed to Son, who for reasons to be fully investigated, had at this point popped up on the right flank. Sensibly, rather than try this season’s choice routine of running into a brick wall and tripping over his own feet, Son opted to pop off a quick pass; and what a pass he popped. The nutmeg is one of AANP’s personal favourites at any given point in any given game; when it is effected in the build-up to a goal, all the better.

Son’s nutmegged pass was just the excuse for which Hojbjerg had been looking to bound forward, and as mentioned above, the Dane duly did his thing. Sonny may have offered little else in an attacking sense, but if this is to be his weekly output then I would happily sign him up to it pronto.

5. An Oddly Enjoyable Win

I emerged from that win in vastly better spirits than anticipated. Admittedly, this is not least because I fully expected our heroes to collapse in a heap at the first sign of trouble, but even though we had less possession, and were not half as competent in midfield as the other lot, this produced one of those ear-to-ear grins across the map.

I suppose it is partly because in those moments when we did counter, the mechanics seemed to whirr and hum as well as they have done for some time. A low bar, admittedly, but still enough to get me off my seat a few times.

Kulusevski, while still not exactly the swashbuckling hero of last season, seemed to have a few vague recollections of dance routines and jinky steps that have served him well before. In the second half, I fancied that we even looked likelier to score than they did. At one-one, with the game approaching its finale, I experienced something other than the usual dread; and all of this, coupled with the marvellous pause before our second goal, put a spring in the step and song on the lips.

No doubt we had a couple of helpful interventions – or, I suppose more accurately, benefited from the absence of a couple of unhelpful interventions. The AANP tuppence worth is that the disallowed goals were scrawled from the record books rightly enough, but the penalty shouts were another matter.

However, the outrage accompanying all this has been rather entertaining. One understands the Brighton howls of indignation. Tough to swallow, no doubt. More than happy to administer a sympathetic pat, if it helps. But it is all rather amusing, what? One would think, from the outpouring of apoplexy that no other side has ever suffered a VAR bruising since the thing was unveiled. And frankly, the rarity of benefitting so obviously from a spot of VAR fumbling has contributed all the more to making this an absolute delight. Heaven knows we’ve suffered at its hands often enough in the past, and will no doubt do so again soon enough – so that being the case, I’m happy to throw back an extra bourbon in celebration of it tonight! But a sympathetic pat to our guests, of course.

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Spurs match reports Spurs news, rants

Conte (& the Southampton Draw): 5 Tottenham Talking Points

1. Conte’s Rant

I must confess that a good deal of what you might call the specifics of Conte’s rant escaped me. This is certainly not a pop at the fellow’s English, which is a dashed sight better than any other tongue in which I’ve dabbled (when it comes to asking for a cheese sandwich in DuoLingo Spanish, I’m your man; when it comes to discussing the merits or otherwise of my colleagues in a foreign vernacular, I demur to Conte).

But still, this was not one of those systematic jollies, in which each point is clearly labelled and unpacked, leaving the listener in no doubt about the way of things, before moving on to the next item. First listening to his words, and then poring over the transcript, it seemed to me that Conte had about half a dozen different ideas swirling around, and they all oozed out on top of one another.

Nevertheless, one got the loose gist. “Angry man ranting” was the nub of it. Whatever calm and considered plan he might have prepared before strolling out to meet the assembled press, once he had taken his seat and got down to business he seemed not to be able to contain himself. Nor did the passage of time soothe the savage beast, and by the time he had finished ten minutes later the whole thing reminded me of that scene in Predator in which Arnie and chums unleash their heavy artillery and spend a good minute or two of screentime just mowing down every tree in sight.

So while the small print of his frustration was a little mysterious to me, it was pretty clear that one or two things had got up him. Most notably, he seemed at pains to communicate that he was less than entirely enamoured of his beloved players. If I understood him correctly, I also fancy that he aimed a swipe at the board and owners; and for good measure he then veered down a side-road into the theoretical and peeled off a strip or two at the club generally, as an entity. At that point a few questions from my undergrad days about personal identity came swimming back to mind, but they swam off again sharpish.

The underlying feature seemed to be that Conte had just about had enough of the current state of things. And, indeed, the state of things for the past twenty years. So what to make of it all?

2. Conte On The Players

His principal target was the playing personnel, and here he has a point. Whether or not one also drags in the board, the manager or both is pretty racy stuff, but as starting points go this is actually pretty straightforward. That the players repeatedly foul things up on the pitch is difficult to dispute. I doubt there’s a lilywhite in the land who hasn’t at some point this season wanted to grab various of our heroes, give them a pretty violent shake and then smack them across the face with a wet fish.

“Selfish” seemed to be Conte’s word de jour yesterday, but more generally the notions of our lot being unable to cope with pressure and offering little more than half-hearted shrugs in the face of trouble certainly rang true. Far too often this season and for several previous seasons, the players have stunk the place out.

3. Conte On The Board

The board – I think – were next in the firing line, but at this point the mood darkens rather. This seems to be a matter that turns family members against each other, if you follow my thread. Some are ‘yay’, and some are ‘nay’, but everyone seems to voice their point with gusto.

Those who side with the owners can point to the large sacks of cash flung around to bring in such luminaries as Sanchez, Ndombele and Lo Celso in recent years, the argument being that money most categorically has been spent.

More pertinent to the serving monarch, Messrs Kulusevski, Bentancur, Perisic and Porro each seem to have Conte’s personal seal of approval emblazoned across their foreheads. Added to which, Richarlison and Bissouma, whilst each having so far had much about them of the damp squib, nevertheless seemed to receive from the Big Cheese a satisfied nod of approval upon arrival last summer, as if to say, “Precisely the squad member needed for a campaign on several glorious fronts.” Conte, the argument runs, has had his wish-list pretty handsomely indulged.

However, no sooner would the Defence nestle back into its seat than the Prosecution would leap up and start raging that Conte wanted but two things last summer, viz. a right wing-back and left-sided centre-back. On the RWB front he has had to wait half a season for one shiny new Porro to arrive. As for the left centre-back, the whole sorry episode reminds me of that gag from the Good Book, which asks what sort of fellow would hand his lad a stone if he requested bread, or a snake if he requested a fish – both of which suddenly seem pretty rosy deals when compared with receiving Clement Lenglet, when asked for a world-class left centre-back.

A messy old business then. The AANP take is that the players certainly deserve stern words; the culture of the club has indeed been severely lacking in the Winning Mentality department; and that while the board has chipped in with cash it has made various howlers in other areas.

4. Conte Himself

Much of which, however, is for a different day. Following Conte’s tantrum, the burning question at AANP Towers was around the responsibilities of the fellow himself. Shaking an angry fist at the players, for their displays every week for the last year, is all well and good until one remembers that they set foot on the pitch each time with Conte’s own words ringing in their ears. If things have been so bad, what the devil has he done about it himself? Listening to the chap whinge away you would think that he has been barred from speaking to them for the past year.

Conte himself bleated that our lot today are worse than last season, which seems true enough. But given that he is the one running the whole operation it does rather suggest that he ought to have a solid chunk of the responsibility shoved across his shoulders.

To howl about the selected players not being up to the task (or being too “selfish”), whilst resisting any personnel changes as if his life depended upon the same XI, has a bit of a whiff about it. Which is to say nothing of the rigid tactics, or the peculiar reluctance to give things a shake mid-match with a few substitutions.

It is possible that this entire episode was part of the old psychological one-two, aimed at instilling a spot of fire in the bellies of the outraged playing personnel. I suppose I have heard wilder theories in my time.

The drearier conclusion, as pointed out by various more knowledgeable sorts, seems to be that the whole monologue was Conte’s attempt to protect his reputation. That is to say, with pastures new awaiting him, and a sorry end to the season fast looming at N17, it is in Conte’s interests to position the club as beyond saving, the players as empty-headed dullards and the managers – both present and previous – as pretty helpless innocents.

All of which might be true, I suppose. He’s laid it on a bit thick though, what?

5: The Match Itself

After all that – which enfolded, lest we forget, after our heroes had thrown away a two-goal lead in the final fifteen against the divison’s bottom team – to pop back and pick out the positives from the match itself feels a bit like coming home to find the house burnt down, but noting that the sun is shining so it’s not all bad.

Still,  there were some plus points, as Conte’s dearest pals are no doubt reminding him. Pedro Porro looks a handy addition, for a start. I’ve previously given quite the salute to his crossing in the final third, and on Saturday I noted that he also possesses a mightily impressive cross-field diagonal from deep. This was unleashed a couple of times, the first of which had Sonny clean through in the opening moments, and really ought to have brought a richer harvest than a shot so wide it headed out for a throw.

On top of which, Porro showed himself to be fully signed up to this business of wing-backs appearing in the penalty area to try their luck at goal. As well as his actual goal, he treated himself to two other pops from close range, both of which, alas, sailed over. Encouraging stuff though, for the remaining ten matches in which we continue to use wing-backs.

Sonny did little to impress throughout, but his pass to create Porro’s goal was an absolute delight. It got rather lost in the tornado that followed, both on and off the pitch, but his one diagonal seemed to take out literally half the Southampton team in setting Porro free on goal.

The other fellow who caught the beady AANP eye – yet again, it should be noted – was young Master Skipp. There were, admittedly, a couple of errors that might have been more severely punished, and his usual rather harsh yellow card, but otherwise Skipp delivered a near-faultless central midfield display. As often sighted winning possession as picking a pass, he hummed away incessantly, generally taking on life’s grubbier jobs as if thrilled simply to be asked.

So much for the silver linings. Heartening though Skipp and Porro were, the lip I chewed throughout was a pretty dashed frustrated one. At no point in this match did our heroes look to be in control of things – which may be acceptable against PSG, dash it, or even AC Milan, but not against the league’s bottom side. At best, our lot threatened on the counter; but on balance it seemed the slight majority of the game was spent diligently trying to keep Southampton at bay.

Even if this had succeeded, it is a dreadful approach to life against a team in that position. And having got ourselves two goals to the good, all as one dropped deeper and deeper, chanting in unison “Backs to the wall” as more and more defensive sorts were thrown on to give it the old skin-of-the-teeth routine. As such, one understands the manager watching that and then promptly losing his sanity – but if this nonsense is still unfolding after a year and a half of Conte, either he is too dim to notice the problem or not good enough to solve it.

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Spurs match reports

Sheff Utd 1-0 Spurs: Six(ish) Tottenham Talking Points

I remember in my school days occasionally studying those morbid poets who would rattle off 12 lines or so about a dying cat on the side of the road, evidently feeling that nothing could have better captured their mood at the time.

And I was reminded of those miserable souls last night when Sheff Utd slotted in their goal, because like a dying cat on the side of the road back in the day, at that moment nothing could have summed up our performance better than the sight before my eyes (specifically, the quite ridiculous ease with which that chappie gaily skipped through our defence.)

In a match that our heroes couldn’t have approached more casually if decked out in sun-hats and flip-flops, it made perfect sense that some lower-division soul should weave past 5 of N17’s finest without actually having to ride a tackle, before beating the ‘keeper at the near post of all blasted things, to really twist the knife in.

1. Hojbjerg’s Role In The Goal

Given that literally half the team were involved in the above dereliction of duty, it’s not difficult to go around pointing the finger with some meaning. Hojbjerg was one of the principals here. It drifted under the radar a bit, amidst the mass of limbs resolutely not putting in a tackle when the laddie went on his run, but immediately prior to that an attempted Sheffield United pass was aimed straight at Hojbjerg, who rather than control or clear the thing, pretended not to be there, turned away and let the ball bounce off him.

An odd one but no matter, thought AANP, convinced that the chap would rectify the situation at the earliest opportunity. And as luck would have it this opportunity arose pretty much immediately, the ball rebounding to the SUFC cherry, who duly put his head down and ran straight back at Hojbjerg. And while understands that our man was not really in the market for a wild lunge in order to regain position – this being the penalty area and all – I couldn’t quite wrap the bean around the choice of action for which he instead opted.

As this Ndiaye chap approached him, Hojbjerg took one step towards him and then promptly aborted the interaction, withdrawing his frame and waving his hands in the air in some gratuitous act of surrender.

This I absolutely could not stomach. Refraining from clattering the man would have been one thing, but explicitly showing the world that he would have no further part in Operation Tackle The Blighter – waving surrendering hands, forsooth! – was absolutely galling. Why did he not shepherd the fellow away from goal? What’s the point of avoiding concession of a penalty if you instead just let any dandy who pleases waltz right in and score? And what’s the point of being on the pitch at all if you’re not going to put body and soul into stopping the other lot? I ask you!

2. Porro’s Role In The Goal

Pedro Porro was next up, or, more accurately, simultaneously up. As the rebounding ball fell to Ndiaye to rather obviously cut inside, Porro dedicated his entire bodyweight to covering the outside. And having flung himself off towards the wrong postcode, Porro sized up his options and evidently decided that regaining his balance and charging back to rectify things was not The Tottenham Way. A fast learner, this one. So as Ndiaye set out scaring Hojbjerg into timid surrender, Porro simply gave up, deciding that he would grab the nearest bucket of popcorn and just watch how things panned out.

3. Sanchez’s Role In The Goal

Enter Davinson Sanchez (although I use the term ‘Enter’ pretty loosely, as that would suggest this particular wretch had something meaningful to contribute). With Porro and Hojbjerg having shrugged shoulders and let their man walk straight between them, Sanchez at least appeared to present a specific and considerable obstacle in between Ndiaye and the goal. It would not have taken too much effort, it appeared, for Sanchez simply to remain in between Ndiaye and the goal. The concept of effecting a tackle was probably a wild one at this point – this was Davinson Sanchez, after all – but simply standing firm and blocking off the fellow’s route to goal appeared both sensible and feasible.

Instead, as Ndiaye adjusted his compass and turned about forty-five degrees to his right, a move that raised the stakes but by no means sealed the deal, Sanchez’ brain began to melt at the complexity of what he was witnessing. At which point, he then appeared to malfunction and stop completely, dash it. He just stopped! Ndiaye carried on with his merry dance, and Sanchez stopped participating, as if the whole incident had evoked some unhappy memory from his childhood and he couldn’t bear to be involved any longer. What the blazes is wrong with this utterly mind-boggling fish?

Honestly, if I were Master of all I surveyed and granted endless power, there are a few obvious first steps I’d take. Curing some of the incurable diseases of course, and regular breaks during the working day for a refreshing bourbon – say one an hour, on the hour – but top of the list would be some form of legislation forbidding Davinson Sanchez from every darkening our door again.

4. Dier’s Role In The Goal

Eric Dier was next on the rollcall of ignominy. He at least had the dignity to appear interested, adopting that ‘long-barrier’ pose, with a knee on the floor, no doubt with the intention of saving the day by blocking whatever shot might be unleashed. I suppose in principle it was not a bad plan, given that Ndiaye was now very clearly at the ‘Fire’ stage of his ‘Ready-Aim-Fire’ routine. Where all else had lost interest and stopped bothering, Dier was essentially telling the world that he had had enough of this nonsense and was going to resolve it himself.

All of which would have been absolutely bucko if he could have got himself into position lickety-split. The shot would have been blocked, and the deadlock would have remained. But alas, Dier’s masterplan fell apart when it came to swift reorganisation of the relevant limbs. Dier, one sometimes feels, was intended by Nature for Walking Football, or some other sport played at a more sedate pace. As Dier was manoeuvring the knee towards earth and creaking the joints into the appropriate stance, the SUFC laddie was already sprinting off for his celebratory knee-slide. A nice idea, Eric, I felt like muttering, but far too slow for heaven’s sake.

5. Skipp and Forster’s Roles In The Goal

I actually felt a pang of sympathy for Oliver Skipp, who deserved better than to be found guilty by association in this ghastly affair, but he was last on the scene. No real blame attached here, it wasn’t really his problem to fix but he had a go anyway, flinging a pretty meaningful leg at the problem, but alas too late. The shot was already away.

And Forster? That whole mantra about not being beaten at the near post is arguably a little over-played, but it was still pretty crushing to see the whole sorry mess end in that way. One understands Forster prepping self for the action to reach its climax at various locations to his left, but he still ought to have included ‘A Shot To My Right’ in the old Risk Assessment.

6. Dreadful

And to be honest, beyond that goal it was difficult to muster words for anything else. Partly because the goal itself was one of those ghastly scenes it was difficult to stop seeing, even with the eyes clasped tightly shut; and partly because our heroes appeared not to possess one creative fibre between them for the entire duration.

The absurd insistence upon playing a back-three continued, even when up against a single Championship 37 year-old, and as a result our midfield remained, as ever, utterly bereft of creativity.

Having banged on all season about how this 3-4-3 system requires decent wing-backs to make it work, we finally took to the pitch with Signor Conte’s WBs of choice in situ, and then silently wept as the chosen pair were repeatedly swatted away without making a dent. Porro showed a spot of pace, so no doubt Eric Dier cast a few envious glances his way, but there is no escaping that this was dreadful stuff throughout.

And these repeated Cup defeats to lower-league side really seem to sum up the side we are – to wit, possessing neither the fight to match nor flair to hammer a lower-ranked team. (Which means, by the by, that I’m now expecting us to turn over Milan at home next week, as that’s precisely the sort of incomprehensible guff our lot would roll out.)

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Spurs match reports

Spurs 2-0 Chelsea: Three Tottenham Talking Points

1. The Skipp Goal

Flitting over the first half handbags and jollies, that Skipp goal positively burst at the seams with all the right sort of stuff.

For a start, it came straight from second half kick-off. I suppose you might say there is nothing so remarkable about that – the game does have to restart somehow after all. Nevertheless I’ve sometimes watched our lot peddle this same routine each game, and wondered if they might not rustle up something with a touch more grace and elan than simply giving it to Dier to clout up into the heavens and loading the left flank with runners in preparation for when gravity does its thing.

I would have expected that Chelsea would a) have been wise to this approach, it being the one we adopt just about without fail every time we start a half, and b) not had too much difficulty in countering it.

But there it was, considerably higher on altitude than subtlety, with Davies, Richarlison and Kane queueing to see what would be on offer once the thing fell to earth. Davies and Richarlison were the principals in this instance, the former plucking the ball from the sky whilst the latter did an impressive spot of swivel-and-onward-shovelling towards the centre. And when the Skipp household crack open their umpteenth bottle of champagne tonight and light up a cigar or two to round the thing off, they may want to offer a toast to the neat footwork and general alertness of Richarlison, in rotating affairs from a position of no more than general promise, on an inside left perch and with back to goal, to a position of considerable threat, with Kulusevski and inside the D.

There then followed a sequence of suitably dramatic events in the build-up to Skipp’s big moment, which included a few helping hands from our odious guests. For a start Kulusevski found Emerson, whose presence in the prime attacking spot should no longer surprise anyone. His shot was handled by the Chelsea ‘keeper with considerably greater theatre than necessary, meaning that rather than slamming the door on the whole episode it instead created a even glitzier sequel.

Another Chelsea fellow picked up the baton and handily threw in a rubbish clearance, which kept things alive. And at this point young Master Skipp cleared his throat and marched onto the stage for his big moment.

Amidst all the fuss over his finish – and it oozed with quality, make no mistake – the preamble might easily be ignored, but I was particularly taken by it. It involved the fine young fellow winning a ball for which he was, if not exactly a rank outsider, certainly second favourite. But a spot of upper body beef, did half the job, and it was topped off by a general desire and will to win that I wouldn’t normally associate with our lot. And yet there it was, and against the odds Skipp emerged from the conflab as master of all he surveyed.

All that remained at this point was for him to close the eyes, swing the peg and hope that the outcome was one of those half volleys bestowed once or twice a lifetime from on high. Not only did he catch the thing on its sweetest possible spot, the ball also slapped off the underside of the bar – an element that, as is universally acknowledged, augments the aesthetic value of any goal by around a thousand per cent.


One cannot but help beam with avuncular pride for young Skipp. Such an earnest soul, and a Tottenham boy from root to stem, but by virtue of his role in life rarely the sort to receive much acclaim. It was pleasing enough to see him score his first goal for the club, but to do so in quite such glorious fashion really does make the heart sing a bit.

2. Romero

It says much for all concerned in the lilywhite defensive ranks that Chelsea didn’t really get a decent view of goal the whole match. Sterling’s first half sprints had me chewing the lip once or twice, and there may have been a long shot or two, but really nothing to make the blood freeze over and spine quiver.

On one of the few occasions in which they did threaten, courtesy of a couple of neat diagonal passes through the lines that shifted things from ‘Minimum Threat’ to ‘Clean Through On Goal’, I for one was grateful for the intervention of one C. Romero Esquire. On that particular occasion, Romero displayed in the first place a decent sense of awareness of current affairs, in springing from his usual spot on the right of the centre-backs, to cover a breach on the left. On top of which, he then had the bright idea to pursue a policy of minimal contact in order to see out the danger.

Romero, as is public knowledge, is the sort of egg who cannot resist solving life’s problems by throwing a full-blooded limb or two at it. Recourse to such action in the penalty area, and indeed in the six-yard box, might have had some pretty dangerous consequences. In this instance, however, he opted to insert his frame in between the ball and the onrushing Chelsea forward, and the ploy worked to perfection. What had threatened to escalate into a clear-cut opportunity, instead fizzled out quietly, as Romero guided the ball to safety much like a responsible adult escorting some unruly child across a road.

It was one of a number of pretty impressive interventions from Romero throughout. In recent weeks – just about every week, in fact – I have cocked a pretty dubious eyebrow as he has flung himself, body and soul, into a challenge, seemingly not content unless some furniture is damaged and a card brandished at him. Today, by contrast, the feist and aggression were on show, but always in controlled and regulated fashion. He tackled firmly, cut out passes and crosses and the like, and also did a spot of overtime covering in random areas like left-back whenever the situation arose.

Those casual moments when he mistook our one-nil lead for an eight-nil lead and rather complacently allowed the ball to be nipped from him took the sheen off things, but I wave a forgiving hand in this instance. He carried out the nuts and bolts of defending pretty robustly, and I was all for it.

3. Forster

Another chap whose name is likely to receive only the briefest mention, but whose occasional inputs caught the AANP eye, was Fraser Forster. Not that he was exactly overburdened – the five colleagues directly in front of him, and indeed the five in front of those, all contributing pretty diligently, leaving Chelsea unable to muster more than a shot or two in anger.

 And in fact, one of the few shots that Forster did have to deal with, in the first half, he made rather a pig’s ear of. It was one that either needed a clutching to self or shoving pretty mightily off to the margins, but Forster did neither, the ball popping from his frame and requiring an intervening bloot from Ben Davies to extinguish.

But in the second half, the gigantic chap seemed to get the message, seemingly struck by the benefits of doing simple things well. Most notably this happened when one or other of the Chelsea mob wriggled their way into the area and looked for all the world like the next item on their agenda would be one or other of rounding the ‘keeper or toe-poking into the net. Either way, a spot of pretty serious peril loomed.

Now wandering off on a tangent, I suppose it is possibly a mite unfair to criticise a chap both in his absence and for a crime he didn’t even commit, but at this point the curious thought that flashed to my mind was that if Hugo Lloris had been in situ and minding affairs, I would have bet my mortgage on him somehow uprooting the Chelsea forward, at considerable cost to the overall masterplan.

However, we were blessed in this instance not with Lloris but with Forster, and he pretty admirably addressed this crisis by catapulting every inch of his eleventy-foot frame forward across the turf, so as to snatch the ball from the toe of the blighter, thus averting either toe-poke or rounding-of-‘keeper scenarios.

In common with Romero’s intervention described earlier, since the net result was an absence of any damage, and what one might describe as a dot ball in the scorers’ book, it would be easy to shrug off the whole affair and pretend it never happened. But AANP has made a habit of getting rather too carried away with the small print when watching Spurs, and through this intervention (plus the handful of crosses caught with minimal fuss and dressing), Forster, in my book, earned his evening bourbon.

And there we have it. To a man our lot scrapped and fought as required, threw in a couple of moments of quality in the final third, and tootled off with another pretty comfortable win. Long live that Stellini chap.

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Spurs match reports

Milan 1-0 Spurs: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Sarr

It’s not often I can claim to speak for the masses, but I’m pretty sure I wasn’t alone in reacting to the news of poor old Bentancur’s twisted joints by feeling the stomach sink a few levels, and having a nameless dread creep up my spine and make itself at home slap bang in the middle of my very soul.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but R.B. has been the heartbeat of the operation. Kane may be the poster boy, but just about everything is run by Bentancur first, for him to stamp with his seal of approval. The prospect of heading off to the San Siro of all places, minus this fabulous chap, had me grasping pretty desperately for the whiskey and rocks, with emphasis on the former.

With Hojbjerg also otherwise engaged, and even Bissouma passing on this particular invitation, that nameless dread was having a whale of a time churning up my insides as I tried in the first place even to remember who the fourth and fifth choice centre midfielders would be.

Sarr and Skipp it was to be then, and as the whistle tooted at 20.00 GMT, AANP had much about him of Daniel entering the lions’ den with a few nervous looks east and west.

Incredibly, however, young Messrs Sarr and Skipp saw it that central midfield ought to be the last of my worries. The defence? Errors lurking not far from the surface. The attack? Nary an idea in the tray. But central midfield brimmed full of energy and natty decision-making throughout.

I loosely recall young Sarr being flung on for twenty minutes or so against Palace a few weeks back, and looking the full potato back then, but with an asterisk against his name in virtue of the fact that we were 4-0 up at the time, and I rather fancied that even I might have looked vaguely competent in such a circumstance. Last night, however, was no 4-0 twenty-minute cakewalk. Sarr was up against a competent mob, and in what sounded like a pretty punchy atmosphere.

And yet the young pup set about his work from first whistle until last in absolutely first-rate fashion. I can barely think of a duty that the modern midfielder ought to execute, which wasn’t executed with all manner of flying colours by young Master Sarr.

He gobbled up loose balls and generally ensured that his opinions were heard in midfield, making clear to any Milan sort who thought that the central areas would be ripe for a spot of casual R&R that no such luxury would be afforded. And this sort of energy in the hub of the team does all manner of good, setting the tone and giving the impression that whatever else, our lot will not go down without a spot of fight and a few swings of the blade.

On top of this general Seek-and-Destroy approach to midfield life, I was also rather taken by the occasional glimpse Sarr gave of a natty forward pass. The sort that is diagonally delivered so as to bisect an opposing two or three midfielders, if you can picture the scenario. Sarr used this weapon in moderation, which is reasonable enough; but he nevertheless made it clear that such a thing is a gift he possesses.

All told, the young cad vastly exceeded expectations, and moreover did enough to suggest that Central Midfield need not be a topic of furrowed broughs and panicked curses for the remainder of the season.

2. Skipp

Of the pair, Sarr probably edged things from the AANP perspective, but young Master Skipp was not far behind. In fact, Skipp was not far behind anyone in midfield the whole night long. If a Milan sort had ball at feet and a bit of greenery in front of him, you could bet a few quid that he would also have a spot of Skipp CO2 warming the back of his neck.

Skipp’s starting positions were not always in quite the ideal coordinates, but one of the advantages of being an indefatigable sort of bean is that such oversights can quickly be corrected. If Skipp didn’t necessarily always put out the nearest fire, he did at least keep a close eye on it and generally harry the dickens out of it.

Another minor note I would scribble in his margin is that he did tend to opt for a backwards pass as his default option; but in the context of everything else it seems a mite unfair to beat the poor lad with this particular stick. Skipp did a splendid job of things, both in the blood-and-thunder aspects and also when stretching every sinew to keep our hosts at bay.

Perhaps most striking from the AANP perspective was the relentless energy he and Sarr displayed throughout. Both Bentancur and Hojbjerg will put in the hours – neither could every really be accused of shirking their duties – but the two on show last night were relentless. Every time a Milan player took up possession in or around the centre circle, as sure as night follows day you could guarantee that one of Sarr or Skipp would be buzzing into view at a rate of knots to confront them and set about debating the thing.

Bentancur, as mentioned above, is the central cog in all this, but I do sometimes watch Hojbjerg and wonder what he is adding beyond a lot of increasingly irate pointing and shouting. He has some very good days (witness Man City the other week) but also some pretty anonymous ones. Moreover, he just doesn’t seem to have the energy and pace of the younglets of last night. The point I’m driving at is that if we were to kick off the next game or two with Messrs S & S in residence, and P-E H wrapped up in a duffel coat on the bench, then I’d greet the news with a pretty nonchalant shrug – and that’s high praise for the young pair.

(Alternatively, switching to a back four, starting S&S and having a third midfielder alongside them, to add some attacking flavour, would really make the eyes leap from their sockets.)

3. Romero

Alas, not everyone was as on top of their game as the midfield youths. Senor Romero has had plenty of sparkling days in lilywhite, but it would not be stretching the bounds of literary credibility to state that last night was not amongst them. Some way down the list, I’d fancy.

For a start, this business of his wild, bookable lunges has really gone too far. Now don’t get me wrong. AANP appreciates the singing thwack of one hefty limb against another as much as the next cove. A time and a place of course, but who amongst us does not occasionally think that matters of disagreement are best settled by a challenge of sufficient rigour and meat to win ball, upend man and excavate a small plot of land simultaneously?

All well and good, if done with observance of appropriate conditions. Correct and exact timing of the deed being one such condition. Making clear to the viewing public that winnings have been obtained from the transaction is another. Tick these and various related boxes, and such acts of robustness can earn pretty enthusiastic reviews.

Romero, however, seems to have started caring less and less about the small print, and begun obsessing about nothing else than sending his nominated target cartwheeling about five yards skywards, seemingly treating this as the principal objective of his each and every matchday. I’m not entirely sure what’s got into the chap. He’s just won a World Cup, dash it, what the devil is he trying to prove?

Anyway, it happens like clockwork – unnecessarily and often a little early on in proceedings. And not for any obvious higher purpose either. Should he take a great big chunk out of an opponent who is readying himself to deliver a fatal blow and leather the ball into our net, I would offer an accepting shrug and console myself that his intervention was made for the greater good. But Romero tends to launch his ambush when the opponent is involved in some pretty innocuous hobnobbing a few yards south of the halfway line, with no real danger appearing anywhere on the radar.

At best it leaves the blighter on a tightrope for the rest of the half. One understands the principle of pressing high and giving the opponent a timely nudge; and one similarly sympathises if once in a blue moon the fellow loses his head and aims an unsubtle kick; but to wildly swing the hatchet every ruddy game does make one scratch the loaf and ask politely if the young man is quite right in the head.

On top of that, Romero made a pretty serious clanger in the opening exchanges, which led to the only goal. Now it’s hardly for me to lecture anyone on the art of defending, but the consensus amongst the great and good seems to be that he got himself in a frightful positional muddle in trying to deal with the aerial ball lofted in his direction, resulting in some pretty frantic back-pedalling, an attempted header in which just about every limb was pointing in sub-optimal directions and an ungainly descent to earth. As the Milan charlie sped away towards goal, hindered only by the moving mannequin that is Eric Dier, Romero was still untangling his limbs on the San Siro turf.

One could, of course, excuse such errors as part and parcel of human fallibility, but on occasions such as these we really need players of the ilk of Romero to rattle off near-flawless routines. Goodness knows we have enough of his comrades queueing up to botch things without him also getting in on the act.

4. Sonny and His Would-Be Replacements

Oddly enough I actually thought that Sonny looked a bit rosier of cheek than he has done for much of the season. Particularly in the early knockings, he seemed taken by the urge to scurry with or without ball – albeit typically in his own half – but in general he seemed a bit more fluid than in recent weeks. The ball was not getting caught in his feet, nor was he running straight into the nearest opponent.

 Alas, “Not running straight into the nearest opponent” was probably the highlight of his performance. He could occasionally be spotted, pootling around with an air of a fellow who wants to make his mark, but offered precious little creative spark or availability to assist those around him.

Nothing new there, I suppose – but there’s the rub. This happens over and over, and while we were all thrilled for the young bean that he bagged a couple against Preston or whomever in the Cup, he remains distinctly off-colour. And whereas in years gone by one would be a mite wary of replacing him with someone of obviously lesser calibre – a Clinton Njie, if you will – we now have a shiny, functioning and rather expensive Richarlison primed and ready to replace him. Fresh from a pretty wholesome World Cup too, dash it!

So what the hell is the delay? Sonny’s little mournful period of introspection has dragged on for months now. While we all sympathise with the chap, I rather wish he could conduct his soul-searching somewhere less public, and let Richarlison stomp around from the start, and for a few consecutive games. Or give the lad Danjuma a swing, if that fits the positional narrative a little better.

Either way, this business of Sonny being undroppable only really makes sense if he is tearing up the town each week, leaving in his wake a trail of dazed opponents and all manner of goodies in his swag bag. He isn’t, and each week the harvest is weak. And yet, Our Glorious Leader will not be moved. To say the mind boggles understates the thing.

Nonetheless, despite all of the above, I still oozed back to the ranch last night fancying that we could fairly comfortably progress from this tie. Of course, it would require the half-decent version of our lot to turn up, and what the hell sorcery is required to produce that is anyone’s guess. But the point is that Milan were no particular great shakes, and our lot have enough about them, certainly in attack and, seemingly now, in midfield, to click into gear, once the stars align. So not all doom and gloom.

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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.

Categories
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.)

Categories
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.

Categories
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)