All Action, No Plot

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Chelsea 2-1 Spurs: Five Tottenham Observations

1. The First Half: As Rotten As I’ve Seen

The first half was just about as rotten as we’d all feared. We Spurs fans are rarely the most optimistic breed at the best of times, but with our three leading lights absent and Llorente as the nominated focal point, the mood pre-match was one of undiluted dread, a sentiment that proved entirely justified in an opening 45 that was dross of the highest order.

Most of that period was spent simply haring around in the slipstream of the Chelsea lot, barely laying a foot on the ball and generally giving the sense that an almighty thrashing was in the post and on its way.

Llorente seemed to pick up where he left off against Fulham, seemingly unable to find a team-mate if his life had depended on it, and he received precious little support from a midfield that seemed to view the ball with the gawking confusion of a group of wide-eyed innocents being introduced to it for the first time.

One rather felt for Eriksen, who stood head and shoulders above his teammates, but who all too often tiptoed his way around numerous snapping ankles only to look up and find that not a soul was in the vicinity to offer support. Or that Llorente was there, which essentially amounted to the same thing.

2. The All Action Second Half

The transformation amongst our mob in the second half was of the sort normally reserved for cartoon characters with little concern for realistic plot devices.

Our Glorious Leader, for so long a manager who seems to have treated a football match as a cinematic experience to be enjoyed passively and in a silent spirit of non-interference throughout, took it upon himself to switch to a back three, which gave Danny Rose in particular the licence to hare upfield with the sort of zeal that one would rather not argue with.

And aside from the tactical change, the whole bally gang of lilywhites took to the second half with a frenzied determination if not exactly to strategically out-manoeuvre Chelsea, chess-like and subtle, then at least with a frantic spirit of all-action-no-plot frenzy that seemed to rely upon living by the sword and dashed well dying by it too. It was marvellous fun, albeit pretty wearing stuff for the nerves.

3. Llorente’s Moment of Redemption. Good Egg.

The first half might have gone on for several days and we would not have got anywhere near scoring; but within five minutes of the second half we had done the business, and I think only those of the most heartless dispositions could have failed to feel some pleasure for Senor Llorente.

I’m quite happy to admit that I was amongst the most vocal in chiding the wretched chap at the weekend for his buffoonery, so his perseverance last night was worthy of some grudging admiration; but his headed goal merits a far more sincere slap on the back and splash of the good stuff.

A combination of brute force and bravery, when it would have been easy for him to sulk and mope and just give up on the whole dashed thing, it was impressive stuff (even if the hope it thereby provided did ultimately make the eventual defeat all the more galling).

4. Gazzaniga Passing

Although there was a deflection en route that perhaps messed with his mechanics, I was not exactly bowled over by Gazzaniga’s attempt to repel Kante’s goal; but the chap’s distribution is fast becoming one of the more impressive sights to behold.

We’ve seen it from him a few times now, this inclination to volley the ball from his hands deep into the heart of a panicky opposition defence, and Gazzaniga was at it again last night, niftily straddling that line between a hopeful, moronic punt and a devilishly identified and executed ping of a wonder-pass.

The pass that set Eriksen free on the right very nearly created The Best Goal Ever – Llorente, in one of life’s more unsurprising developments, failing to make a clean connection with Eriksen’s cross.

Then Gazzaniga set Moura free on the inside left, and the ensuing volley was only a few inches away from being another goal the aesthetics of which would have flown through the roof.

Lloris presumably retains the edge for his instinctive shot-stopping, but Gazzaniga’s passing is one heck of a string to his bow. I look forward to his next foray in the FA Cup on Sunday.

5. Injuries

Ultimately it was not to be, and we might as well have exited the competition at the first hurdle (although I think the win at the Emirates did a world of good, so silver linings and all that muck).

The sight of Davies limping off after half an hour actually caused me not a jot of upset – as, it might surprise my public to know, I’ve never been the most ardent supporter of the young bean – but the principle of another day bringing about another injury is about as much as any sane chappie can bear.

The lunacy of the summer transfer policy is not just an elephant in the room, it’s an entire herd of the things. Almost every one of our players who went to the World Cup has since picked up some form of injury, and we have barely had a week free of a midweek fixture.

The official party line of not buying players who cannot improve upon the current starting eleven is being exposed as utter tosh with each passing day, for we simply need additional players just to take to the pitch. If no better players can be bought, buy players of equal quality and field them instead, rather than fielding the same honest souls every game until they literally break.

Alas, there seems little likelihood of any of this changing, and frankly we seem more likely to sell than to buy this month. It’s a dreary append to an oddly glorious failure.

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

Arsenal 0-2 Spurs: Six Tottenham Observations

So all those “North London is red” cackles seem pretty ill-judged now. A peculiar bash this one, as Arsenal arguably had most of the chances, without ever looking in the slightest like winning. In fact the final 20 or so passed off with all the peaceful serenity of one of those delightful afternoon naps in the sun, when the greatest exertion is simply waving a lazy hand at passing flies.

1. Dele’s Goal

I trust the viewing public will understand if I dispense with chronology and skip straight to the evening’s highlight, because Dele’s goal was of the sort to be placed in a commemorative box and paraded at family reunions.

As part of the preamble the young scoundrel plucked Kane’s cross from the skies, which was neat and tidy but hardly the sort of stuff to have those in the stalls jumping to their feet and strewing flowers around.

At this point I think most self-respecting bookies would have pulled down the shutters and announced that they had stopped taking bets on ball ending up in net, because it was a fairly routine opportunity. And yet herein lay the beauty of the thing, because even before we mere mortals had a chance to process the sequence of events – and certainly before Master Cech in the Arsenal goal had had a chance to get his bearings and adjust his feet and wave his arms – Dele was already taking the plaudits, having dinked away with all the impudence of the Artful Dodger at his most artful.

Having spent much of last year over-elaborating simply for the heck of it, this season the point appears to have wormed its way into his brain that at his best he is on a level above most others on the pitch, and can therefore change games, rather than dribbling into odd little cul-de-sacs in midfield.

2. Kane’s Impact

Son, Lucas and Dele himself all buzzed around in their own ways, but each offered the same sort of thing in attack, if you get my drift. If glancing over the CV of each you would no doubt be impressed, but might struggle to differentiate one from the other with any emphatic judgement, and as a result all our attacks were cut from similar cloth – namely intricate and sneaky, with trickery at every corner.

Enter Kane, and within 60 seconds or so he had demonstrated a useful alternative piece of apparatus, and our lead had doubled. A goalscoring anomaly he undoubtedly is, but the young bean’s work in deeper pastures continues to boggle the mind. On this occasion it was trapping on his chest the sort of 50-yard punt that would have had an evens chance of sending me flying across the turf if I had attempted the same.

That done, he took one look, and weighted a pass into the path of Dele that pretty much begged to be despatched as a matter of decency.

3. The First Goal

And while I’m at it, it seems only right to pay a little deference to the first goal too.

Dele’s assist again illustrated the point made above, that when on song he effortlessly rises to a level above the rabble surrounding him. It was a pass identified while most onlookers were still adjusting to the bodies falling to earth around him, and executed to perfection.

And neatly finished by Sonny, just as my mind was flitting back to his saved one-on-one vs Barca around this time last week.

Naturally enough, with that impeccable judgement that his earned me my armchair seat a million miles away from the actual football, I spent the opening exchanges lamenting the presence of Son in a game of this feist. Certainly if you’re advertising for someone to lose 50-50 battles in the heat of battle, then he’s the man to hang your hat on.

But just trying to imagine having to defend against him makes me want to sit down in a darkened room for a few minutes and compose myself, and despite the Barca miss he is quite the dab-hand in front of goal. Many a time and oft I have used these pages to vent an anguished howl or two at our wastefulness in front of goal; yesterday the mantra on all lilywhite lips was “Clinical finishing”.

4. The Weekly Sissoko Adoration

Well, almost clinical finishing. The one notable chance that went begging was that which fell to Moussa Sissoko, and such is the chap’s tortured history in front of goal that as he the ball rolled invitingly towards him most self-respecting bookies were pulling down their shutters and announcing that they had stopped taking bets on ball launching into orbit.

Apart from that he did not put too many feet wrong. His performances have become a mesmerising phenomenon. He remains utterly imperious, and yet this being despite – as the skied shot illustrated – so oddly lacking in the finesse of a natural footballer.

However, as Arsenal had done to us a couple of weeks back, so last night we successfully strangled the life out of them every time they touched the thing, with an instant press that no doubt had onlooking packs of hounds nodding admiringly; and Sissoko – along with the indefatigable, if error-riddled, Winks – was central to the mechanics of this.

5. Gazzaniga Reassures Again

Elsewhere, Paolo Gazzaniga continues to throw a few choice lumps of earth over the grave of Michel Vorm’s Spurs career. His shot-stopping is what most obviously catches the eye and no doubt brings him the glamorous women and fast cars, and as if to hammer home the point he thrust out his paws to such good effect last night that they were worth a couple of goals.

It is praise of a pretty dashed high order to state that when I see his name on the teamsheet, the second thought that springs to mind is that there is no need to panic about the absence of Monsieur Lloris. (The first thought is, naturally, to reminisce about our first Gazza.)

A stern eyebrow did however waggle northwards when Gazzaniga took his Lloris impression a little too far and began fooling around with the ball at his feet, a block-headed move that very nearly let Arsenal back into the game, but the broader point remains that he is an entirely able deputy between the sticks – and that puts him streets ahead of Vorm.

6. Davies At Centre-Back

A final observation on the personnel was young Ben Davies. Never exactly a favoured son here at AANP Towers, primarily due to being pretty thoroughly average in all respects, I’ve been intrigued to see the chap nudged into the left side of central defence in recent days.

This is not quite the bold and pioneering manoeuvre it might appear on first glance, Davies having cut his teeth on the left side of a back-three while on national duty, but to see the chap become our fifth centre-back of the season has still been enough to prompt chattering amongst the paying punters.

When passing judgement it is easy to suggest that he is better suited to life at centre-back than dashing up the wing, simply by virtue of not being required to do any attacking or, more pertinently, deliver any crosses. Whereas at left-back his crosses either into the first opponent or ballooned into vast expanses beyond the back post have me tearing out my hair, at centre-back he is required to concentrate on defence and defence only.

And this, to his credit, he did solidly enough. His reading of the game was sound, and as a result he made useful interceptions throughout the piece.

His was not an entirely blameless showing, mind. After the Gazzaniga first half error Davies took the wild thin-air swing of a man testing a newly-attached limb for the first time; but by and large the experiment proved successful – and also spared young Foyth what might have been a tortuous return to the lions’ den.

So a good night all round, and while the fixture pile-up does begin to sport a rather ominous look about it, superiority over that horrible lot down the road has been reasserted with minimum fuss.

Need a last-minute Christmas present for the Spurs fan in your life? AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes is available on Amazon…

Spurs 2-1 PSV: Four Tottenham Observations

1. A Welcome Change of Narrative

Well this rather cocks the hat at a jaunty angle, in response to all those harbingers of doom, gloom and mockery.
Admittedly in the grand scheme of things it is unlikely to make too much difference, for our CL campaign has “Dreadfully sorry, but it’s 3rd place and Europa” etched all over it, but nevertheless. For a spineless, gutless mob incapable of seeing out games, there was a decent slab of spine and gut about the manner in which we clawed this back, particularly so late on in proceedings, and with our margin of error amounting to precisely the square of zero.

All the pre-match bubble and hype was about the need to win at all costs, eradicate mistakes and all that cheery guff – so naturally, this being Spurs, we were one down within a minute.

Not that there was too much in the way of sackcloth and ashes at AANP Towers when that opener landed, for the motto around these parts is that it’s vastly preferable to concede in the first minute than last. Plenty more time to adjust one’s settings, don’t you know?

And thereafter we tore away at PSV like a team of rabid cats feeling particularly irate about their lot. Chances came and went so frequently I wanted to set my watch by them, and the PSV goalkeeper, a chap who appeared at first glance designed for chopping trees and lugging oxen, spent the first 80 minutes thrusting a well-timed mitt at just about everything we threw at him.

It’s worth hammering away the point that, given all of the above, this was tailor-made for a night of ignominy. Instead, we played well throughout, just about kept our discipline and found a way to snatch victory from defeat. One hopes that such stirring sentiments and rousing performances are adopted by our lot every time they set foot on greenery from here on in.

2. Moura

It was one of those nights on which it doesn’t quite seem the square thing to go singling out such-and-such a chap for his efforts, because just about everyone involved worked up a pretty honest sweat for the cause, and with the exceptions of Davies and Son I thought they just about all delivered a meaty thrust too.

But in those irksome first half minutes in which we just couldn’t quite connect the dots, it warmed the heart no end to see Lucas get his head down and set off on a series of mazy dribbles that involved beating every PSV player in sight and haring straight into the middle of their area.

In the land of neat but often sideways passing and probing, the dribbler is king, and Lucas’ contributions to the cause seemed to get the watching hordes on their feet and give everyone a handy shot of adrenaline.

3. Gazzaniga

The murmur for Gazzaniga to be elevated at least one rung up the goalkeeping ladder has gathered momentum in a gentle, underground sort of manner over recent weeks, and to his credit the young bean didn’t disappoint when handed his chance.

The Cruyff turn seemed wildly unnecessary, and there was one errant pass, but that aside his distribution was sensible and his shot-stopping accurate. One in particular, when we were caught on the hop at 1-1, was notable for having been struck like an exocet missile by the looming PSV bod. Gazzaniga, evidently, has reflexes like a cat and wrists like hardened cement for he managed to paw it northwards in what is technically known as a Blur Of Motion.

Not much he could have done about the goal. All told, this chap keeps the pulse of the onlooker a darned sight steadier than Michel Vorm, so it appears that the pecking order might have been permanently altered.

4. Substitutions

By and large there’s nothing but praise for Our Glorious Leader in these parts; except, of course, for when I’m criticising him. And that tends usually to happen when a mid-game change is needed to right a few wrongs.

On this occasion, admittedly, the hooking of Moura, who, as mentioned, had been running pretty rings around PSV – while Sonny laboured to effect but one ring all game – seemed a rummy move. Perhaps fatigue and fitness was the decisive factor in this thinking?

More of a game-changer however, was the addition of Llorente into the mix. Rocket science it admittedly was not, for lilywhite crosses were already raining in, so why not throw in the lumbering giant? But these things are best judged on hindsight, and for his immaculate cushioned lay-off to Kane for the equaliser, Llorente justified his selection, and Pochettino earned a small gold star.

Elsewhere, Winks was excellent; the Eriksen belly appeared brimful with fire; and Dele’s return continues to add a frisson of excitement (even if his tendency to hog the ball continues); but all told this was a triumph for the whole bally mob.

Need a Christmas present for the Spurs fan in your life? AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes is available on Amazon…

PSV 2-2 Spurs: Five Tottenham Observations

1. Gallingly Pretty Stuff

Bafflingly, had it not been for the stress of the thing, this would have been an absolute treat to behold, at least for the opening 80 or so.

Take the goals alone. The first one was the sunny output of no fewer than 19 passes, according to the bods who monitor such things, the penultimate one of which was an absolute delight inside the full-back, from the wand of Eriksen. Yes, there was a deflection on the finish, but after 19 passes that’s hardly the point is it?

The second goal was, to the lover’s gaze, a thing of even greater beauty. The little exchanges between Son and Eriksen had the poor old PSV mob scuttling around in little circles like dogs spying their tails and setting off in hot pursuit, while the cross from Eriksen was of that wicked ilk that really ought not to be viewed before the watershed.

In short the whole lilywhite performance was so sparkling that great swathes of cherubim and seraphim were making the dickens of a racket about it. In terms of aesthetics and technique it was off the scale.

Moreover, it was all delivered having earlier been on the receiving end of a couple of notable stings of disappointment. The PSV opener for a start, had something of Paul Parker in Italia ’90 about its perfect parabola over the ‘keeper. The downright rummy call to chalk off Davinson Sanchez’s efforts had the visiting patrons similarly miffed, and the whole unfortunate saga was starting to become uncannily reminiscent of the first half of the ’91 FA Cup Final for the way in which Lady Luck was having her cruel way with us.

Yet by the hour-mark we were playing a brand of the beautiful stuff that was a notch or two above most mere mortals, and absolutely cruising on to Gameweek 4 with our pockets positively bursting with points. Indeed, by the time of the red card our hosts had not managed one second half shot, such was our dominance post-interval.

2. Experience: Overrated

Naturally, it does not need me to remind that thereafter the whole thing went rather Spurs-shaped. However, the roll-call of miscreants makes for interesting viewing.

Toby may have redeemed himself, for about one tenth of a second, with his sliding tackle, but his leaden-footed buffoonery was the first official crack in the Hotspur mentality, and this is a chap to whom we turn most readily for leadership, big-game nous and all those other important-sounding buzzwords on occasions such as these.

Master Eriksen, arguably the pick of the lilywhite bunch on the night, blotted his escutcheon like nobody’s business with his lazy concession of possession on halfway, which set the PSV chap motoring off towards Lloris around the 80-minute mark. Again, Eriksen is a man of big-match experience, and as such he really ought to have known better than to try show-boating on halfway when the lead was but one goal.

And as for Monsieur Lloris, the mind boggles so much that a strongly-worded letter to The Times simply does not do it justice. Again, the chap has experience in absolute truckloads, which does rather beg the question – what the deuces?

Each summer for around four or five years the walls of AANP Towers have been alive with the sound of chuntering about our lack of arrivals specifically with the big-match experience to see us through such crunch CL games as these. But when the very chaps blessed with such experience are the ones most prominently sticking their feet in buckets and tripping over their laces one wonders where we go next. There is simply no legislating for such monumental foul-ups – but as long as they continue the lilywhite juggernaut will remain stuck in this underachieving rut.

3. Eriksen

I have already touched upon comments within both the Credit and Debit columns under Eriksen’s name, but to reiterate the positive, by the second half he was playing the game as if life and all contained within could be slowed down at his whim.

My, how we have missed him when he has been in this sort of form, and how we lack a remotely adequate reserve.

His error leading to the red card cannot be ignored, but he was at the heart of so much that was good as we forced our way into the lead, and then edged towards a third.

4. Dembele

Another welcome returnee was Dembele. The snorting-bull/balletic-ice-skater hybrid has blown hot and cold to date this season, but right from the opening toot he was on top-notch form yesterday.

Time and again he picked up the ball fifteen or so yards inside his own half, and within four or five seconds was fifteen or so yards inside the opposition half, with a couple of steamrollered PSV sorts lying dazed and confused in his wake. It was peak Dembele.

Although a yellow card seemed inevitable given the manner in which he slings his forearms this way and that when in pursuit, the caution he actually received was jolly harsh. It did nevertheless mean that I spent the remainder of the game screeching, “Don’t dive in, egads!” every time he thundered off in pursuit off the ball, but luckily he escaped further censure until replaced the Scrappy to his Scooby.

5. Lloris

Since the chap is evidently pretty deficient in the grey cells department I won’t dwell on his latest aberration,
but what of the future for Monsier Lloris? A season that ought really to have been the zenith of his career is rather awkwardly spiralling into one of those anni horribiles of which one hears so much.

The chap’s off-pitch foul-up has been complemented by a whole string of on-pitch errors, coming in thick and fast at the rate of one every two games or so, which is quite the batting average. Still amongst the best in the business when it comes to the pain-et-buerre of stopping shots, his presence as final custodian is beginning to instil dread, given his capacity to magic calamities out of thin air.

Irritatingly, Vorm is current possessor of the reserve gloves, which on form alone makes precious little sense as his unique selling point currently appears to be the startled stare he directs at the ball as it whizzes into his net.

On his rare outings in the first time I’ve always been rather taken by young Senor Gazzaniga, but I suppose the 24-7 grind of training is enough to indicate to the great and good that third choice is where he should stay.

It is difficult to imagine that Our Glorious Leader would dare to omit Lloris for the Man City game next week, but for the chap to be untouchable even when routinely making such errors of judgements rather epitomises the collective problem of not having the God-given sense to see out a win.

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

Huddersfield 0-2 Spurs: Four Tottenham Observations

1: Exhausted Harry Kane

Until only a few days ago the red-hot topic of conversation in all the nattier establishments of London seemed to have revolved around Harry Kane and his energy levels – or lack thereof, to be precise. Indeed, AANP, never having been one to miss a passing bandwagon, was peddling this very line with gusto.

Others suggested he was injured, one or two went down the Lacking Confidence route and a foolish, misguided few even insisted that the chap was actually fine, and if we just left him well alone to earn his weekly packet he’d bang them in from all angles soon enough.

Fast forward to the present day, and one cannot cross a road for the U-turns being effected en masse across the land, as we Kane-Watchers adjust our narratives to match current events. For, beginning with a few hints during the second half against Brighton last week, and continuing in no uncertain terms yesterday, young Master Kane was barrelling his chest, shrugging off all-comers and racing towards goal like a stallion in the prime of its life.

The despatched header and penalty certainly lent a pleasing gloss to the argument – which is a little odd, given that they are two finishes that depend precious little on one’s state of health and fitness. However, the proof of the pudding was the manner in which he repeatedly latched onto the ball from pretty much anywhere north of the halfway line, nipping there in front of the nearest defender before charging towards goal like a bull with one heck of a score to settle. It was the Kane of old, and had our polished arguments about his fatigue and need for a rest rather dying on our lips.

Mind you, this nevertheless remains the same chap who wandered around during the latter stages of the World Cup, and then again during the earlier stages of the season, looking a little bereft, seemingly overwhelmed with the effort of it all.

1.5: A Suggested Explanation for The Kane Renaisance

The AANP theory? That when the chap is asked to hang back around the halfway line, with his back to goal, shielding the ball and winning more free-kicks than you can shake a stick at, while some speedy young menace is employed to do all the running some ten yards ahead of him, one rather limits his capabilities.

So as Sterling was employed to go scampering further upfield during the World Cup, and Lucas similarly during the first few thrusts of the season, Kane was decidedly muted. Yesterday, by contrast, with Son and Lucas deployed as support acts, Kane positively revelled in the starring role, through the middle, atop the formation and with every opportunity to beeline his way goalwards.

2: Central Midfield Watch Part One: Eric Dier

The counter-attacking nature of proceedings certainly played into Kane’s hands as if the whole thing had been carefully scripted by some evil genius weeks earlier. The fact that Huddersfield were blessed with precious few attacking ideas of their own beyond the Long Throw Gambit rendered the game pretty prosaic stuff from the moment our second goal went in.

AANP therefore, being an eagle-eyed and proactive sort, took the opportunity to conduct a forensic analysis of Eric Dier’s performance. The reason being that for nigh on a year now, the blighter’s performances have had me harrumphing away like nobody’s business.

With magnifying glass in hand and notebook at the ready I therefore studied Dier like a particularly devilish eagle giving some would-be prey the once-over. I can report that the chap seems to thrive on holding a slightly non-threatening position at all times, around 10 yards away from the ball. He rarely seems to anticipate danger, but instead watches on from his sentry post, and scowls.

At times this can prove a suitable deterrent. I, for one, would think twice about getting up to too much mischief if I glanced up and spotted Master Dier giving me the stern eye. On the other hand, the Dier 10-Yard Stand-Off does not actually offer much practical value to the rest of Team Hotspur, primarily because it contains the glaring flaw that the hard-boiled egg is always 10 dashed yards from the action.

When the ball enters his sphere of influence Dier does, as has been well-advertised over the years, enjoy crashing in to take ball, man, passing strangers and any other object within the vicinity. This may win possession; it may earn a yellow card; it almost always disrupts nature’s gentle flow.

And frustratingly, Dier’s passing can veer from pretty darned effective forward passes that bisect several opponents, to egregiously bad sideways fare that gifts the thing straight to the enemy.

All told, yesterday’s offering from the lad was not the most efficient defensive screen ever beheld; until the second half, when he was moved to the left-hand side of the back three and actually did a highly effective job, albeit against limited opposition.

3: Central Midfield Watch Part Two: Winks and Wanyama

The half-time shimmy involving Vertonghen and Dembele sloping off, and Dier shuffling into defence, meant rare outings for Messrs Winks and Wanyama. It seemed rude not to study their performances similarly.

Wanyama did at least have the decency to abandon the idea of a 10-yard no-go zone, and proactively go out to meet danger nose-tip to nose-tip, as it were. This did occasionally mean that he drifted out wide and left a gap in the centre, but by and large it made sense and worked well enough.

Young Winks remains an AANP favourite, so if it’s an entirely objective summary you’re after you might want to look elsewhere. That said, the young fish is not quite fully up to speed, and some doubts linger as to whether he will recapture the top-notch form of which he showed glimpses last season pre-injury.

There were a couple of moments yesterday in which he wriggled away from danger in that Modric-esque way; but equally on occasion he wriggled less delightfully slap-bang into trouble.

Presumably all of the aforementioned need game time, not to mention defined roles within an often-changing system, but we all have our crosses to bear. For what it’s worth, the AANP central midfield pairing of preference at the moment would be Dembele and Wanyama.

4. Gazzaniga

A polite mention to Master Gazzaniga, who did the necessaries in fairly fashion. This might not normally merit too many column inches, but given the yowls of despair that tend to greet Vorm’s every soft-handed error, one might as well laud – or at least greet with an exhalation of relief – the serene manner in which our number three Number One kept the back-gate locked.

Saves were saved, and punches punched, although his short-pass goal-kicks are occasionally a tad wobbly in nature, as seems to be the vogue amongst our goalkeepers. Some nifty saves in last week’s shoot-out too. Not sure I would want him rebuffing Messi and chums this Wednesday, but to date he has done all asked of him.

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

Brighton 1-2 Spurs: Four Tottenham Observations

1. Welcome Win, Slightly Improved Performance

For those of you who have been merrily camping under a rock for the last few weeks, pre kick-off this particular binge had assumed a darned sight more importance than your average ‘Brighton (away)’. Three defeats, fatigue, drink-driving, transfers (or lack thereof) and incomplete building works had all contributed to a general sense that the four horsemen were fastening their buckles and giving their mounts some final instructions.

It was therefore with a mixture that was around one-third surprise and two-thirds relief that I noted the perilous nature of the situation had made itself known to our heroes, as set to work trying to unpick the Brighton lock with sleeves rolled up and concentration etched all over faces.

Our lot prodded and probed, and although there was a conspicuous absence of the sweet, sweet sound of oil being struck in that opening half hour, things were at least a notch or two zippier than in recent weeks.
Brighton, understandably enough, began proceedings in rather cautious manner, supplementing their back four with a couple of midfielders, a striker and just about anyone who happened to be passing through the south coast with half an hour to kill. The massed ranks proved tricky to breach, so thank goodness for the flailing paw of Glenn Murray.

Thereafter, needing to chase the game, our hosts hit upon the idea of doing some attacking of their own, and the game segued from one of history’s more passive chess matches to a harum-scarum game of playground football in which the bell is about to sound and life depends upon scoring the next goal. Gaps duly appeared for our heroes to exploit, and on several occasions we appeared to be one devilishly-executed pass away from sewing up the thing; but at the other end Brighton were rushing around like a pack of wolves that had scented blood, and worried glances were being exchanged like nobody’s business in our ranks, which was pretty telling.

Mercifully, the added layer or two of quality in lilywhite picked a good moment to make itself known. There might have been a bucketful or two more perspiration involved than was entirely comfortable, but given recent history I suspect I’m not the only one glad that we simply made it off the pitch with three points intact.

2. A Good Dembele Day

The sages paid to opine on these things picked Danny Rose as their star man, and one does not want to begrudge the honest chap, but at AANP Towers preparations were being made to pin the relevant rosette to one Mousa Dembele.

This was not so much a game in which he orchestrated everything like a criminal mastermind in an underground lair. It was more the fact that every time he popped up in the centre of the pitch, he simply did the right thing.

If a tackle needed to be made, he went a-crunching. When fed the ball he either glided past the nearest bemused opponent, or rolled it onwards to a chum. And on more than one occasion when a teammate got his feet into a muddle and Brighton looked to pinch the thing, Dembele came racing across, extinguishing materials at the ready, to douse flames and restore calm.

(Quite what the nearby Eric Dier made of this repeated purveyance of well-executed decisions is anyone’s guess, but I rather suspect that he gasped and said “What ho!” In fairness, this was not one of Dier’s increasingly common bad days, and his incisive forward pass to set in motion our second was a useful reminder of that of which he’s capable. Nevertheless, as often as not the chap is errant in his passing and a little ill-judged in his tackling. It all lends a little bafflement to the notion that we bought nobody this summer because there was no room for improvement on the current mob.)

3. Hints of Kane Returning to From

It is impossible to swing a cat these days without crashing into someone armed with their own thesis as to why Harry Kane has not been sweeping all before him in recent weeks like some modern-day Hannibal.

Various theories expounded by those in the know include the fact that Lucas is elbowing him out of position and into a spot somewhere nearer halfway; fatigue has the poor egg in its clutches and won’t let him go; a newborn baby is depriving him of sleep; it’s hardly his fault when the team aren’t giving him much of a sniff of goal; and confidence has drained from him.

The considered AANP opinon on all this is to offer a generously-sized shrug and wonder if it is some combo of all of the above (apart from the confidence thing, perhaps – the chap’s self-belief throughout his career has been trumpeted throughout the land ad nauseam, on top of which he’s just won a World Cup golden boot and put to bed the whole August-curse nonsense, so it seems rather a stretch to imagine that a couple of goalless games has him laying awake every night riddled with self-doubt).

Whatever the reason, the whole debate struck me as beginning to disappear from view yesterday, as during the second half in particular Kane rediscovered his joie de vivre and, for the first time in around six months, began to hare towards goals, shove defenders aside and effect some nifty footwork as appropriate in order to thump a shot from distance and on-target.

This happened three times in the closing stages, and while each shot was admittedly of the meat-slash-drink variety for the goalkeeper, each episode felt like a welcome return to the Kane of yore. It was of an ilk not seen so far this season, during the World Cup or generally ever since that ankle injury vs Bournemouth in March.

4. Late Concession

Our second goal was Sunday-best sort of material, and allowed us to canter towards minute 90 in pretty rare fettle – but this being what it is, and our lot being who they are, there was naturally one of those plot twists that is advertised as “Unexpected”, even though one had a pretty hefty inkling it was coming all along.

Brighton’s goal was the latest in a pretty meaty catalogue of Fairly Soft Goals Conceded By THFC In Season 2018/19, on top of which there was still time for us to lose possession and usher them in for another shot at goal, despite there only being around 90 seconds on the clock.

I suspect if that had gone in cracks might have appeared in the sky and an impromptu riot begun by Spurs fans across the land, so thank heavens for the safe hands of young Master Gazzaniga.

More broadly however, something does need to be done to stop this particular brand of rot. If we have a lead, and a game is meandering fairly aimlessly towards a victory, the Brains Trust and all involved dashed well need to find a way to ensure that the meandering continues apace and victory ensues with minimal fuss.

Both Watford and Inter were allowed back into games that no casual observer would have believed would finish as anything but a lilywhite victory, and last night we came within a gnat’s wingspan of making an almighty muddle of things yet again. Yesterday’s victory was deserved, but this habit of complicating the serene march to victory really must stop, dash it.

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Spurs 1-0 Palace: Five Lilywhite Observations

1. Ongoing Labours Vs Defensive Types

If there were a dawn chorus this morning the last folk you will want to ask for a blow-by-blow account of it will be the eleven who began for us, because when the sun peaked and the midday kick-off loomed, our heroes were still emerging from the mists of sleep. And in truth there they stayed throughout the first half. Now while I am not one to knock the benefits of nature’s sweet restorer, the thought did strike me that this approach did not really contribute anything towards the principle aim of the exercise.

However, like many of the choice fairytales of our age, the thing can be deemed a success by virtue of having ended well, and no doubt come the May harvest few in lilywhite will care a hang for how three November points against Palace were ground out.

Nevertheless I don’t mind admitting that watching the troupe make such dashed hard work of things – and indeed flirt a little too publicly with the notion of conceding the opener – gives the whole coronary network a going-over that is far more robust than could possibly be desired on a Sunday lunchtime, not to mention adding a handful more grey hairs to the clan.

The sages who know such things have not been slow to unpick the rationale behind this effortless switch between vanquishers of Real and labourers against Palace. Physical exhaustion has been identified, the injuries have been noted, and the dreadfully modern concept of “emotional tiredness” has also been lobbed into the ring, which strikes me as utter rot, but there you go.

Whatever balderdash is identified, the fact remains that every time a struggling team pull up at our shores and sit back in numbers, our lot labour like the dickens to break them down. My personal solution would be to give the ball to Eriksen, position Son/Alli/Whomever five yards from him, and let the pair one-two their way through the minefield like ballerinas, but smarter minds than mine are presumably applying the grey matter to this issue.

2. Gazzaniga Earns His Corn

While the loss of Lloris was greeted with dismayed groans throughout the land as might be expected, I must admit to feeling decidedly more sanguine about the news of Vorm’s absence, greeting it with the sort of carefree shrug one reserves for a moderate weather forecast. The chap has rarely blown my skirt up, saving some, conceding as many, and generally rolling through life with the air of one who might in another universe be Swansea’s first choice.

Step forward Paolo Gazzaniga then, a man who in name at least has taken a few sensible steps towards winning favour with the patrons of N17. The early signs may not have been massively encouraging, as he wasted little time in emerging from his line to deliver a massive flap at thin air, landing a meaty punch upon the head of an opponent in the process – which might, on another day and under stricter supervision, have had a calamitous outcome.

Things improved no end thereafter however, with a couple of saves of the full-stretch, aesthetically agreeable variety, as well as one or two well-judged decisions to rush from his line and scoop up the bits and bobs.
Hardly a challenge to Lloris’ supremacy, but nice to know that there is some competition for the rank of First Reserve.

3. Dier in the Back Three

In the land of the blind and so on and so forth, so with most of his other chums generally employed in scratching their heads and sucking their thumbs, Eric Dier was able to enjoy a rare day in the sun.

The young nib’s lack of pace generally makes him persona non grata as a centre-back, particularly within a traditional back-four. Such a sin is generally more forgivable within a back-three, but the whole critique was rendered fairly redundant by Dier suddently finding within himself the gift of a clean pair of heels and nifty turn of pace. Where it came from one knows not, although presumably the whole thing was aided by the rather stinging criticism meted out in his direction last week when he rocked on his heels during the slow-motion car-crash that was the United goal.

Whatever the mechanics of it, what ended up on the plate was an Eric Dier in pretty formidable mood. Zaha was an obvious threat, but Dier did a sterling job of proving himself not as green as he is cabbage-looking, shackling the scamp, notably on several occasions through the medium of the no-holds-barred sliding tackle. The absence of Alderweireld had had the potential to get right in amongst our lot and gnaw away from the inside, like those unpleasant microbes one occasionally hears about, but Dier’s no-nonsense of the rear entrance did much to soften the blow.

4. Aurier’s Buffoonery

Honestly, this chap and his predilection for the ghastly, what? While the wealth of pinged hamstrings and strained muscles tumbling from every nook and cranny rather hammers home the point that our heroes have been flogging themselves to the bone and therefore dashed well deserve a little squad rotation, and the omission of Trippier can therefore be logically sequenced, I would personally twing my own hamstring and strain every muscle in my body if it meant that Serge Aurier were kept well away from affairs on the lawn.

The chap is a liability, as any jury in the land would unanimously agree. For a start, all the willpower – and sage counsel from his betters and elders – in the world seemingly cannot prevent him from hurling himself feet first at the nearest foe, with little regard for the likely success of the operation. The chap just wants to fling himself through the air feet first, consequences be damned. Having restrained himself for a good half hour yesterday he could restrain himself no longer and shortly before half-time performed the usual brainless lunge, and was jolly lucky to do in front of a particularly benevolent referee, who generously kept his cards hidden from sight.

Then as the second half ticked agonisingly by, and we sought to break the deadlock, the blighter dashed well opened the back door and ushered through Palace’s speediest and most menacing threats, with appallingly misplaced six-yard sideways passes. Heavens above, remove the chap from the premises and hack his limbs apart. At least ensure that the next hamstring or muscle pinged or strained is his.

5. Squad Depth

On the bright side, yesterday again provided some evidence that the shelves are healthily stocked at HQ when it comes to squad depth. It was not so long ago that the absence of all of Messrs Lloris, Alderweireld, Wanyama and Alli – not to mention Lamela, plus a less than entirely chipper Dembele – would have been greeted with mass protests, clenched fists of fury, doleful wailing in the streets or some combination of the above.

Now however, Our Glorious Leader simply peers over his shoulder and gives knowing nods in the directions of Gazzaniga, Sissoko, Winks and Son. My spectacular distaste for Aurier I have mentioned, but should a piano happen to fall upon his head we have Walker-Peters to deputise for Trippier. Rose and Davies can slug it out on the left. Llorente may not exactly be a blur of limbs, but he can give Kane a rest for fifteen minutes, and has a deft touch about him. The arrival of Sanchez and versatility of Dier provides ample cover at centre-back, with Foyth waiting in the wings – and so on and so forth. One gets the gist.

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