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Spurs match reports

Spurs 0-1 Man City: Three Tottenham Talking Points

1. Vicario and The Goal

The fires of righteous indignation were blazing away like nobody’s business amongst vast swathes of lilywhites after that City goal, with “Foul play!” the principal anthem howled. One understands the sentiment, given that the City chappie was dancing a pretty intimate number with Vicario, but the sentiment at AANP Towers was to give the shoulders a shrug. Seen them given of course, but tend to roll the eyes skywards when they are.

‘Football-playing folk will inevitably bump limbs’ was the official line around these parts, and as the chap’s arms and elbows maintained a relatively conservative existence during the episode, rather than being flailed abaft the head in overly reckless fashion, I was pretty sanguine about the challenge. Spitting feathers and blood boiling at the concession of a late winner of course, ranting and blaspheming into the night sky at that, but not particularly outraged about the decision of the judiciary.  

Rather than launch into a passionate diatribe about the indignity of having his path hindered, I would have much preferred Vicario to have taken the more rudimentary approach in the first place of Cleaning Out Everyone In Front Of Him and Punching The Ball To Kingdom Come. Less scope for perceived injustices that way.

To his credit Vicario did actually get a fist to the thing, despite that City rascal whispering sweet nothings in his ear. His contact was hardly of the Kingdom Come variety, but he might nevertheless feel that he had put in place the basics and could reasonably look to a nearby associate to firm the thing up. It was rather a shame, then, that this part of the procedure having been ticked off, the ball bounced off the back of young Van de Ven, who seemed rather astonished to find himself in the vicinity, and neatly into the airspace of that Ake fellow.

Thereafter there was not much to be done, but with the dust having settled I hope that young Vicario, in his quieter moments, decides to focus his thousand hours of practice on that aforementioned art of C.O.E.I.F.O.H.A.P.T.B.T.K.C. Because in most other areas the chap seems well in control of matters – playing the ball from feet when under pressure, shot-stopping, and so forth. Indeed, these very qualities were proudly advertised on Friday night – City’s press being of the intense variety, and their shots low and punchy. As such, one would not want opponents to sniff a weakness at set-pieces and accordingly crowd and jostle our gate-keeper to within an inch of his life each time. Remedy that chink in the armour, young man.

2. Van de Ven (and Udogie)

Alongside Vicario, young Van de Ven struck me as one of the more impressive of our number. A blessed relief to have him back, for his composure and comfort in possession in the first place, but also, as he rather pointedly emphasised on several occasions, for his red-face-sparing pace, that allows him to save the day time and again, with the well-judged skin-of-the-teeth timing that is the hallmark of so many of life’s finest action heroes.

We muddled through with varying degrees of success without him, but having him back at times feels like having a twelfth player in the ranks. (As it happens, I feel similarly when casting the beady eye upon former N17 parishoner Kyler Walker.) That is to say, the day-job entails performing all the duties of any self-respecting centre-back, but, blessed with jet-heeled pace, young VDV is also able to masquerade as something of a sweeper, racing in from wherever he may be when emergency arises, to act as last line of defence and give it that Kingdom Come treatment. This flexibility was displayed against both Foden in the first half and De Bruyne in the second, to name but two instances, and is a mightily useful bonus string to the bow.

And while on the subject of those who performed adequately enough I might as well direct an admiring whistle towards young Signor Udogie, whose offensive and defensive mechanics both appeared to be in fine working order. Admittedly City had a bit too much joy down their left/our right in the first half, but when Udogie was put to the test in one-on-one combat he tended to deploy either or both of his speed and upper-body strength, as appropriate and to good effect. All a bit futile in the final analysis, but one ought to record such things.

3. Absent Friends

Whichever bean it was who came up with the gag that absence makes the heart grow fonder was clearly quite the football aficionado. It’s a maxim that has heightened the standing of many a Spurs player, from Gil and Winks to Sammways and Nayim, and while some of the aforementioned may have underwhelmed a tad when eventually given their opportunity, on Friday night it was with some legitimacy that I bemoaned the ongoing absences of Sarr, Son and Maddison (and, to an extent, Bissouma).

That midfield in particular needed a bit of guile and mischief. Bentancur, as ever, was doing a fine job of availing himself for passes from the centre-backs, and, despite the rather impatient intrusions from City’s forwards, upon receipt calmly spraying the ball to safe zones; but further forward for approximately an hour we did rather scream out for Maddison.

As has been remarked fairly widely, on a few occasions, various of our heroes overlooked the opportunity to release Herr Werner into wide open spaces, and I suppose one never really knows quite how things would have played out in an alternate universe, but one does moodily mutter that Maddison might have picked him out a bit more cannily than those honoured with selection from the start.

Sarr similarly would have been an asset, with Hojbjerg demonstrating once again that being an adequate sub to see out the final fifteen against a side from the bottom half does not really equate to being the measure of the best team on the planet; and seeing our lot labour to create or finish a decent chance worthy of the name I did also lament the ongoing absence of Sonny.

I suppose it’s more important that we stay in touch with the popular kids in the Title race (or Top Four/Five race if you prefer), than that we turn over Man City of all teams in the Cup. Despite the fact that lamentations towards the absence of a trophy ring louder at AANP Towers than in most places, I’d still take a loss against City at home in an early round of the Cup if we can instead turn them over in a few weeks’ time in the League. And as Our Glorious Leader loosely put it, there’s no huge shame in losing to that lot when they’re a good few years ahead of us in their development (and bank balance – witness them flinging on De Bruyne and Doku, and not even bothering to fling on Grealish, while we had the luxury of Dane Scarlett as our In Case of Emergency call).

So the frustration at the continued absences of key players ought not to be over-egged much further, but as one by one they slip back into the fold, by golly I hope, and to an extent envisage, that we can recreate that early season run of wins.

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Spurs match reports

Spurs 3-1 Bournemouth: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Lo Celso

When Senor GLC departed to hearty tidings from all four corners late on, I was struck by the notion of what a difference 37 minutes or so can make, for I don’t mind admitting that when the curtain came down for the half-time intermission I had already set about sharpening the knives for the chap.

Now it’s true that he contributed to our one outstanding moment of the first half. His lunge for a loose ball, while owing as much to wild enthusiasm as to impeccable timing, was enough to free young Sarr, who did a good job of things thereafter to give us our customary early lead. A tick was duly scrawled against the name of Lo Celso (as well as Bentancur, whose perky outlook had helped turn over possession in the first place).

But aside from that, AANP eyed Lo Celso with gradually increasing distaste, and unseemly mutterings that steadily grew in volume. The common thread of my gripes at the fellow in the first half was that he simply did not apply himself enough. Or put another way, if he devoted as much care and attention to chasing the ball, availing himself of the ball and wisely using the ball as he did to flinging himself to earth at every contact, he’d be quite the player.

As the second half demonstrated, there lurks within the Lo Celso frame, a pretty elegant and creative soul that could carve up the place when the mood suited; but in that first half he seemed too often to lope about the place with the air of one for whom this wasn’t the perfect platform and so he therefore wouldn’t bother. And confirmation bias being what it is, once convinced of this notion I decided that only a delicious pass with the outside of the left boot to create a goal would change my mind. Thus, at half-time, I chuntered a fair amount.

Well of course you can imagine my delight in the second half when Lo Celso roused himself, had a bit of a stretch and set about upping his game about seventy or so notches. The game was no more or less open than it had been in the first half, but now when he received the ball he decided to swan about the place like Maradona, nipping away from opponents and releasing onrushing chums with well-weighted passes into space.

He had already taken it upon himself to become something of a conduit between our playing-from-the-back and bearing-down-on-goal, and came within a whisker of creating a goal for the more centrally-positioned folk when he whipped in a cross that had the words ‘Convert Me!’ scrawled all over it in block capitals.

And finally his big moment arrived with that gorgeous pass for Son’s goal, which achieved the impressive feat of gaining full marks for both effectiveness and aesthetics, and which pretty much did enough to kill the game as a contest (albeit with the caveat that, our lot being our lot, one can never really state with any certainty at any scoreline that the game is truly killed off, and even after the full-time whistle sounds I do look around a little suspiciously in case another surprise lurks).

2. Udogie’s Defending

AANP has never been one for Greco-Roman wrestling, generally filling the leisure hours with more sedentary pursuits, but if circumstances did force me to go down that route I decided after watching today’s proceedings that the one chap I wouldn’t want to meet in the ring or on the mat or whatever it is, is Destiny Udogie.

Generally this season the column inches about the young specimen have been filled with praise for his attacking exploits, and quite rightly so, he having become one of the more essential cogs in the whole attacking appartus. But today he seemed pretty set on reminding all in attendance that he was indeed fashioned by Mother Nature as a defender first and foremost, which came as a bit of a shock, but turned out to be quite timely.

If he had planned beforehand to use today to showcase his defensive wares he certainly picked a good day for it. As happens with depressing regularity, our lot seemed to be absolutely wide open every time Bournemouth came forward. Of course, those lilywhites in the vicinity adopted earnest expressions, and did that peculiar dance of tucking their arms behind their backs while going down on one knee, and generally did their best to make it look like defending was a Big Deal to them. But in practice they seemed only to offer a spot of decoration about the place, while Bournemouth folk queued up to take a pot at goal as and when they pleased.

In this situation, and in particular with that VDV-shaped hole still strongly evident at the heart of the defence, Udogie took the opportunity to appear stage left for a series of dramatic, last-gasp interventions that arrested the attention and conveniently saved the day.

It was impressive stuff, as it had somehow slipped beneath the AANP radar all this time that he is actually a pretty darned quick blighter. One doesn’t quite notice this personality trait when we’re on the front-foot and several different attacking elements are on the go simultaneously.

But when we’ve lost possession and the other mob are lobbing the ball over the top of our high defensive line, creating a basic foot-race between our lot and their lot, one is suddenly struck by the blurry nature of the little Udogie legs, whizzing into view, catching up with the opponent and generally Van de Ven-ing the threat away.

Which brings me back to Udogie’s Greco-Roman attributes, for as well as demonstrating himself to be one of the quickest pair of heels in N17, he also showcased an upper body stacked full of brawn and muscle. His chest, barrel-like in both appearance and, evidently, substance, was put to full use in sending Solanke sprawling across the turf when the latter decided to dabble in a spot of surreptitious barging when in on goal, and simply bounced away. And to repeat, this was Solanke, himself a creature of considerable heft and sinew.

It said much of our defending, yet again, that in order to keep Bournemouth at bay we had to rely upon several last-ditch interventions from a left-back who’d much rather be Number Tenning it up the other end. Truth be told, we took quite the battering at various points in this game, but as silver linings go, the discovery of these rarely-sighted super-powers tucked away in the Udogie back pocket was a cheery one.

3. Brennan Johnson

It has not escaped the beady AANP eye in recent weeks that young Brennan Johnson has attracted a spot of the red ink and some glowering looks. One understands the sentiment of frustration, as he has occasionally shown a bit of a tendency to make a pickle of some promising situations – but in this he is hardly alone, and any self-respecting prosecutor would surely haul in Messrs Richarlison and Son for a spot of the old cross-examination here.

In general, however, the slap I direct at Johnson’s back is one of encouragement rather than censure, and indeed, I’m more inclined to raise a disapproving eyebrow at those who lay into the chap. Ignoring momentarily his eventual outputs, his general tendency to stretch his legs and go haring off down the right provides a useful outlet – one that has not gone unnoticed by the radar of Pedro Porro – as well as making him quite the nuisance for opposing left-backs.

And while it has been a frustration at various points in recent weeks that having worked himself into a threatening position, he has made a pickle of things when it comes to pulling the trigger – either in terms of shots or crosses – this strikes me as the sort of element to his game for which only minor adjustments are needed.

Today, things seemed to click a bit more smoothly. His very early pass for Son was perfectly serviceable, ticking all the boxes that any goal-producing cross ought to require – first-time, decent pass, no requirement for the oncoming striker to break stride – so full marks to young Johnson, and few unrepeatable sentiments towards Son.

He put in at least one more cross from the right that was so well-judged and executed it ought to have been accompanied by a musical ping; before his good work did eventually strike oil, through the inch-perfect cross for Richarlison’s goal, which it’s worth noting was pretty much a replica of both construction and finished article against Everton.

So while acknowledging that the earnest young thing will continue to make the odd mistake, I’d much rather celebrate his achievements – coming at the rate of around one goal contribution per game at the moment – than harp on too much about any opportunities missed. Given the context of him playing in his first season at the place, and adjusting to his different role and so on, he seems to be pootling along well enough.

4. Au Revoir Hugo Lloris

And a quick raise and clink of the glass for Monsieur Lloris, after 11 years of grind around these parts. One shares his frustration not to have won a trophy, but well over 400 appearances – a decent chunk of which have been as captain – are worthy of generous applause.

In his pomp he was one of the best shot-stoppers on the circuit, Dortmund away springing to the AANP mind as perhaps his finest hour, while the penalty save from Aguero in the Champions League is a strong contender for the first truly thrilling moment at the new stadium. One trusts that the Los Angeles climate will be to his liking.

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Spurs match reports

Spurs 2-1 Everton: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Emerson at Left-Back

Destiny Udogie’s chequered history having caught up with him, we found ourselves in the awkward position of requiring Emerson Royal to fill in at left-back-cum-midfield yesterday. On this matter three outstanding points immediately arrested the attention and refused to let go, viz:

  1. Emerson is right-footed
  2. Emerson has not dabbled much in the inverted-full-back role
  3. Emerson is as mad as a bag of cats

No shortage of reasons, then, to give the lower lip a nervous chew, and it is with a cheek burnished with shame that I report to having had the knives sharpened well ahead of time, in anticipation of the worst.

As it happened, what actually transpired was a performance so steady and reliable that, come the closing credits I toyed long and hard with the notion of feting Emerson with the prestigious Nod of the Head awarded for being the game’s outstanding contributor. Admittedly this was largely earned by default, our heroes having clocked a round of individual performances so middling that Emerson’s rose to the top by virtue of being amongst the least flawed, but nevertheless – some credit to the lad for overcoming each of the 3 challenges highlighted above.

Without necessarily contributing anything eye-catching and game-changing, I thought that Emerson got right just about everything at which he tried his hand yesterday. Positionally, he seemed up-to-speed from the off, knowing where to go and whose shoulder to lurk behind, when to give the arms a frantic wave and when to keep a low profile. He availed himself to Davies, Skipp et al when we were in possession, and kept a diligent eye on affairs in his jurisdiction when we were defending.

That said, he dithered away like nobody’s business and needed a sizeable dollop of luck with the disallowed Everton goal. Too complacent for my liking, and who knows how things might have panned out had that one been allowed to stand, what?

Equally, however, at one point in the first half he almost had a moment of glory, finding space for Sonny to set him loose up the left flank and curling a most inviting pass – with that rarely-spotted left appendage, no less – into the path of an incoming Brennan Johnson that, but for a rather wild finish, would have put us three up and afforded all concerned a much gentler snooze of an afternoon.

That was about as glamorous as it got for him but, given the anxiety with which I had anticipated Emerson taking the inverted left-back reins ever since Udogie’s yellow card last week, the young nib’s largely error-free shift was received with quiet but fervent prayers of gratitude.

 2. Skipp

The prospect of 90-plus minutes’ worth of out-of-position Emersoning was not the only element causing a few worry-lines to form on the AANP map pre-kick-off yesterday. Skipp for Bissouma is nobody’s idea of a fair trade, even allowing for the latter’s dreary dip in form, but there we were yesterday – and there we will remain for the foreseeable, given that Bissouma is currently being detained at His Majesty’s pleasure before flying off for that blasted AFCON next month.

Skipp at least came armed with a spot of positional experience, having occupied defensive midfield spots pretty much ever since he first learned to walk, but his presence there from the off still gripped me with an unspeakable fear. Stick Skipp in a Sean Dyche team and one would emerge pretty satisfied; ask the honest fellow to spend his afternoon Ange-balling and it’s a little difficult to know quite how events will unfold.

Understandably enough, once the whistle sounded Skipp just rolled up his sleeves and gave the impression of not giving too many damns about Ange-ball, Sean Dyche or anyone else. He just rattled through the catalogue in order to locate the most Oliver Skipp performance he could find, and delivered that with all the trimmings.

It was perfectly sufficient. Whenever our centre-backs were in possession he immediately scampered to within five yards of them, yelping to be allowed to play. They rolled the ball to him, he immediately rolled it back whence it had come and the sequence was able to begin again.

Those of us who have watched with quiet satisfaction as Bissouma, or indeed Bentancur or whomever, have received the ball from the centre-backs on the half-turn, and with one quick shoulder-dip been away from their marker and on the front-foot, had to moderate our expectations pretty quickly. This was Oliver Skipp’s world, and fancy shoulder-dips or changes of direction were pretty strictly outlawed. Skipp would dab the ball straight back to whomever passed it to him, and no more.

He served his purpose well enough. With Porro, Emerson, Romero and Davies on hand to do more of the heavy-lifting, in terms of picking the more incisive passes from deep, it was basically enough for Skipp simply to occupy appropriate areas and create space for others. He also beavered away earnestly enough when we were out of possession, holding a protective central position and occasionally taking it upon himself to snap at a pair of Everton ankles if the mood took him. There were occasional mistakes and fouls, but on the whole he did what was required.

As a temporary solution, filling in every now and then when an A-lister is unexpectedly withdrawn, I’ll shrug the shoulders and mutter that he’ll do I suppose, and prepare to scrawl a 6 out of 10 against his name. I can’t really say that the prospect of him scuttling about the starting XI for another month fills me to the gills with joy, but unless the January window brings a Connor Gallagher or some such, we may well be stuck with him.

3. Sonny

I mentioned that it was an odd sort of showing all round, with various cast members appearing a little off-colour, and few summed up this peculiar state of affairs better than our on-field lieutenant.

Sonny did of course pop away the crucial goal, and as such excuses a multitude of other sins across the other 95 or so minutes. That his goal was an odd, scruffy sort of job is neither here nor there – basking in the satisfaction of fourth spot the morning after, few amongst us will grumble that the second goal lacked a bit in the aesthetic stakes. ‘Shove the damn thing into the net’ has been a fairly critical instruction in the last couple of months, and not one that our heroes have necessarily adopted too gaily, so if Sonny wants to bobble the thing through a crowd in order to score his goals that’s fine by AANP. Bobble away through as many crowds as you like, is pretty much the approving response over here.

But his headline contribution having been thus secured, I thought that Son spent the rest of his afternoon mangling his lines in all manner of ways. Just a temporary blip of course, and his absence will be lamented with some pretty meaningful wailing and gnashing of teeth when he flies off for that blasted Asian Cup next month. But still. This was not his finest hour and a half.

If he were on the run with the ball, he found a bizarre series of ways to extinguish the threat himself, be it losing control of his own feet, treading on the ball or slightly forgetting who and where he was, and scuttling off on his own towards the edge of the playing surface while an Everton man collected the ball and trotted off with it in the opposite direction.

There was also a series of opportunities to feed a nearby chum who would have been in on goal, which Sonny curiously kept miscalculating, poking the ball out of play or straight to a defender or some other such oddly-judged ideas that didn’t quite hit the spot.

Anyway, there was no want of effort on his part, and the honest fellow is allowed an off-day – particularly as he got the most important part right, in front of goal – and moreover, even if his end-product was generally all over the place, he clearly kept the Everton mob on their toes throughout just by virtue of being Son and all the energy that entails.

4. A Mixed Bag

When the employer invites AANP to tick the boxes in one of those psychometric tests, invariably the findings are that I am one of those souls who likes things neatly squared off. Spades are called spades. Everyone knows where they stand. And it is in such a spirit that I generally like to assess the outputs of our heroes in lilywhite. A thumbs-up for a job well done; a thumbs-down when they’ve stunk the place out; and not too much time wasted sugar-coating things in the middle.

All of which leaves me in a bit of a spot about yesterday’s goings-on. It was a strange old showing from our lot, when one steps back and thinks about it. On the bright side, I could count probably a good half a dozen instances of Ange-ball at its finest. “Ping, ping, ping,” would be a pretty accurate way to describe those moments, when the stars aligned, everyone gave everyone else a knowing nod and in the blink of an eye the ball was being whizzed from our area to theirs.

The first goal was an example of the above, even if strictly speaking the whizzing took the ball from the middle third to their area. There was the usual flurry of one-touchery, a lovely spot of body-feinting thrown in by young Sarr (the one bean I thought might beat Emerson to the Nod of the Head when all votes were counted) and a finish that oozed confidence from Richarlison.

Even the second goal, for all the rougher edges about its coup de grâce, had a pleasing look about its build-up. But in general, our heroes seemed to be off the boil as often as they were on it.

Passes were misplaced as if there were an internal competition to which everyone had pretty feverishly dedicated themselves; and a lot of the time those in lilywhite simply lost possession. It was pretty rummy to behold, but on several occasions some well-meaning sort in lilywhite would have possession, without too much imminent danger presenting itself other than an Everton bounder surreptitiously edging into view – and before you knew it possession had swapped hands. The Everton bounder now had possession, our hero was forlornly nibbling at his ankles and the entire cast had to reconfigure and don their defensive hats again.

These days one does not see to much of the straightforward, honest tackle – interceptions and blocks being all the rage – but yesterday it seemed that every couple of minutes we were losing possession because an Everton sort had simply wandered over, and without having to put in too much thought or effort, positioned himself between ball and lilywhite and made off with the dashed thing.

We brought no end of problems upon ourselves towards the end of the first half, the whole business of playing out from the back being executed with pretty scant regard for the delicacies that such an operation requires, with the result that Everton time and again were presented with the ball some twenty yards from goal and invited to amuse themselves as they saw fit.

And towards the end of things, that blasted Danjuma was made to like a bit too much like Pele for my liking. A handy chap in the final third we can all agree, having been treated to his cameos at close quarters last season, but for him thrice in ten minutes to befuddle our defensive mob and blast a shot at goal seemed a bit thick. Porro, Dier and Skipp seemed to find the lad unplayable, which was alarming, and quite what strain of sorcery Vicario has signed up for is anyone’s guess, but he seems to have had other-worldly intervention on his side in his last couple of matches, and it’s no stretch to say we’ve been centimetres from conceding – and missing out on two points yesterday.

All told, it was a hard-earned win – against a team slap bang in the middle of a hot streak, and with our usual slew of absentees. The general sloppiness in our play suggests more than anything that our heroes could do with a few days off, with some massages and scented candles and whatnot, but to be four points off the top having had such a rotten old November reflects well.

Merry Christmas, on we trot to Brighton.

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Spurs match reports

Spurs 4-1 Newcastle: Six Tottenham Talking Points

1. Kulusevski Central

It would be over-stretching things to suggest that AANP is like a broken clock in stumbling upon a notion of some virtue twice a day, but, like a broken calendar, bang on the money once a year sounds about right – and having bleated away about the virtues of Kulusevski through the centre rather than on the wing, in the aftermath of the West Ham defeat, I was pretty pleased to see the pieces duly rearranged today.

Not that Kulusevski was necessarily the standout performer today. In fact, I’d shove him at least halfway done the list. Which is not to say he did much wrong, far from it, but various colleagues around him seemed to tick the ‘Above and Beyond’ box more obviously, and things ought to be done in right and proper way.

But having Kulusevski through the midfield seemed both to reduce the more vexing elements of his game (viz. the propensity, come hell or high water, to drag the ball back onto his left foot as if under contractual obligation) and also to lend a useful platform to some of his more amenable personality traits. These might be said to include but not be limited to: the thoughtful burst into the penalty area as delivery arrives from wider spots; the licence occasionally to bob up on the left; the application of what strikes me as pretty considerable body-weight forcefully into any of the opposing back-four dallying on the ball; and the generally wholesome practice of racing towards goal from a central berth whilst simultaneously weighing up options right and left.

In short, the shackles seem removed when he plays as a Number 10. Quite what reconfiguration occurs when Maddison returns is anyone’s guess, but if there’s a society for the Repositioning of Kulusevski From The Right To The Centre then they can count on my signature and enthusiastic attendance at fundraisers and whatnot. Keep him there, I say, or at least resist the urge to move him right again when Maddison returns.

2. Sonny on the Left

Of course, much like a butterfly flapping its wings out in the Amazon, one cannot yank Kulusevski from the right and re-position him centrally without all manner of implications rippling away across N17, so there would no doubt have been a few arrows scrawled across the pre-match whiteboard .

The fallout involved the remarkable sight of a right-footed player on the right wing, as Brennan Johnson won that particular raffle; which in turn necessitated a change in personnel on the left. One can well imagine Our Glorious Leader scanning the changing room, spying young Bryan Gil, and without even pausing to think just getting right on again with his scanning.

Sonny got the nod, and wasted precious little time in slotting back into the old uniform. Whether it was a first-time flick into the path of a chum while dropping deep, or a stepover-laced dribble into the penalty area topped off with some pretty inviting end-product, Son brought a healthy dose of A-game to just about everything he did out on the left.

And it was worth remembering, as he set about creating both first half goals in near-identical fashion, that the opposing right-back with whom he toyed was none other than the fondly-remembered Master Trippier, a chap who doesn’t surrender his territory too lightly.

Whilst the risk of deploying Sonny on the left was that it left things uncertain in the central striking role, the decision seemed a pretty smart one if only for the nuisance he made of himself throughout. For all their willing, it is difficult to imagine that Gil or Johnson might have brought home quite such riches; while Richarlison is more of a striker itching to move infield than any sort of left winger. This was pretty electric stuff from Son, who fully merited his late goal.

3. Richarlison

That Amazonian butterfly clearly put in quite the shift, for the after-effects did not end with Sonny’s move to the left. That, of course, left an awkward conversation to be had behind closed doors, given that Richarlison has spent the last couple of years since his arrival diligently pinging his shots everywhere but the nearest net, pausing only to occasionally trip over his own shoelaces.

And when a couple of missed half-chances in the opening 5 minutes brought that all-too-familiar Brazilian scowl, I did scuttle over to the nearest wall against which I might bang the old head a few times. The early signs were that this was a production I’d seen once or twice before.

Mercifully, however, after a conflab of twenty minutes or so, the gods evidently gave it a shrug and granted Richarlison a spot of respite. His first goal might not have been the purest strike of the weekend, but I doubt there’s a lilywhite in the land who gave too many hoots about that. If Richarlison has any sense of decency he’ll spot Sonny a slap-up meal at an over-priced restaurant in the coming days, for his captain did a spiffing job in moulding the opportunity that, if not quite unmissable, was certainly in not-too-much-work-required territory.

And in this day of the tedious knee-slide celebration I always consider that I can spot a man who really enjoys his goal, if he leaps into the thinner part of the atmosphere and swipes a clasped fist. Richarlison certainly enjoyed the moment.

Evidently, it takes more than one poacher’s goal to shed the alter ego and adopt a new persona completely, and the Richarlison of old swiftly returned when a presentable airborne opportunity ricocheted his way shortly afterwards, the man flinging himself at the thing a moment too late, as has been his wont for about two years now.

I also fancy he enjoyed another splash of luck with his second (footing another bill at one of London’s premier eating spots by the by, in gratitude to Pedro Porro), as his first touch when in on goal was not necessarily ideal. But to his credit, having taken a presentable chance and complicated it, he then redeemed himself in the blink of an eye, taking what had therefore become a complicated chance and despatching it, with minimal further fuss. One scratched the head a bit, but a joyous outcome is not to be sniffed at; and importantly R9 is a fellow the quality of whose next deed seems to depend significantly upon the quality of his previous deed – so this all bodes pretty well.

And as a sidenote, even before he was gaily tucking away his goals, I noted with great satisfaction that Richarlison could frequently be observed to commit his full body and I suspect a decent part of his soul to the act of tracking back and winning possession from the Newcastle mob. A well-executed slide tackle is always appreciated, and Richarlison delivered at least three of them. The young bean’s commitment to the cause has never faltered; that his radar began working again today was all the more pleasing.

4. Udogie and Porro

I mentioned above that there were a good few names above Kulusevski when it came to the matter of Star Performer, and both of Udogie and Porro would feature in such a list.

Udogie, I consider, rather owed us a stand-out performance, given that his entirely unnecessary two-footed lunge against Chelsea seemed to spark off the calamitous sequence that we have only just arrested. Admittedly he cannot be blamed for the injuries, and he actually got away with the lunge, but not being one to let the truth get in the way of a decent narrative I continued to murmur, “And well he should,” during the early minutes, in which he seemed to have assumed the role of String-Puller-In-Chief.

And by golly he was in fine old fettle. Even though it happens every week that he simply ambles up the field and presents himself as some sort of free-spirited attacking egg, I did nevertheless gawk a bit at the positions he adopted and the array of neat, sly passes he dished out.

Good of him to chip in with a goal too, and it says much about his role in the team that the sight of him tapping in from six yards did not raise too many positional eyebrows. This, it appears, is just what he does.

I hesitate to scribble, “And opposite Udogie,” when describing young Porro, because it is similarly difficult to pin down the latter, but he was also in attendance, and also having quite the night. The diagonal into the path of Richarlison for our third probably takes the spot on the mantlepiece for his most eye-catching contribution (and with perfect timing too, Newcastle at that stage having given it 15 minutes of honest toil, and threatening to make a game of things).

But in general, and as against West Ham, Porro combined intelligent positions with effective contributions, whether popping up in midfield to chivvy things along, or getting his head down in the final third to try to help finish things off.

5. Sarr: Outstanding

But from the AANP vantage point young Sarr took the gong today. For much of the game our heroes gave the impression of having a numerical advantage over the other lot, swarming them and not giving them the time to collect their thoughts and admire the sights when they were in possession;, and triangling the dickens out of them when we were in possession, regularly appearing to have an extra man at whichever point on the pitch the action was unfolding. And as often as not that extra man appeared to be Sarr.

I don’t know what sort of diet he goes in for but I wouldn’t mind finding out and dabbling, because the chap seemed not to stop running throughout. Which, logically enough I suppose, had the consequence that he seemed always to be involved. He was strongly in the market for tackles, interceptions, passes and then, in common with most of our heroes in those rather fun-filled final 20 minutes or so, shoulder-dips and dribbles out of tight spots. It was one of the more complete central midfield performances amongst our lot in recent times.

It also had the pleasing side-effect of making Bissouma look a bit more like his former self, and making me reflect, in idler moments, at quite what a difference there was between a team built upon Sarr and one built upon Hojbjerg.

6. Davies, Romero and the Defence

The individual performances helped no end, but it also made a world of difference that the now standard Dominant First Half was augmented by not one but two goals. To the list of teams comprehensively outplayed we can add Newcastle, but whereas in 4 of the previous 5 games we have had but a one-goal lead to show for some lovely build-up play and almost playground-esque possession, this time the world felt a much happier place when the cast trooped off at half-time two goals to the good.

There was still ample time to stuff up various further opportunities, and one does drop to the knees and implore the forward mob to take a tad more care in the final third and make sure of things, but it was a definite improvement.

And yet it might well have been to no avail, because at nil-nil we continued to look pretty open and inviting at the rear. It might be a consequence of full-backs being allowed to go wandering off, or it might be something else entirely, but whereas when our defence is arranged in a low block I feel that matters are relatively well contained, when we are caught in possession on halfway and the opposition counter, the whole thing does tend to unfold with a pretty alarming inevitability. Put another way, teams do not really have to work too hard to fashion clear-cut chances against our lot. Nab the ball on halfway and they’re as good as in.

And with that in mind I might take a few suggestions from Richarlison and splash out myself on one of those expensive meals, this time for Ben Davies, in commemoration of what was actually a scarcely believable intervention in the first half to keep Newcastle at bay. Pretty easy to let the mists of time do their thing and forget it ever happened, but when a Newcastle type on their left scuttled unopposed from halfway to our area, his square pass seemed to have doom scrawled all over it.

Davies flung himself at it full length, in what appeared to be an admirable but futile gesture. At best, I mused while wincing in expectation of the inevitable, this will be an own-goal. The laws of physics seemed to allow for little else, given that Davies was extending himself at full stretch and in the wrong direction.

Quite how he therefore managed to avoid poking the ball into this own net having made contact with it, was a conundrum of the highest order. That he additionally managed to do just enough to divert the thing sufficiently that the waiting Newcastle forward behind him then missed the target, was quite remarkable.

Mercifully, having figured out, at least for one night, how to apply finishing touches to all the gorgeous build-up play, it didn’t matter too much that we remain pretty open at the back sans Van de Ven. It helps that for the most part, Davies and Romero know their eggs when it comes to the sort of defending that isn’t just a flat foot-race from halfway.

But had Romero been sent off for his bizarre late lunge, the AANP teeth would have been ground with a fury rarely previously witnessed. The game was won, our heroes were bedded in and well into their stroke-the-ball-about routine, when out of nowhere Romero took it upon himself to wait for the ball to depart the scene and then leave his studs upon the lower leg/above-the-foot region of some Newcastle sort. Irrespective of any sort of provocation – and frankly there didn’t appear to be much – it was about as knuckle-headed as they come, particularly as the young fool has only just reappeared after the previous three-month ban. Egads.

Still, we got away with that, and more broadly, delivered the sort of walloping that we’ve been threatening in at least 4 of the previous 5 games (or at least first halves). Continue to execute three or four of the numerous chances created each week, and we ought to be pretty well set when Maddison and VDV return; but irrespective of that, the mood is lightened for the week.

Categories
Spurs match reports

Palace 1-2 Spurs: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1.  Davies vs Royal at Left-Back

Squad depth – or lack thereof – seems as likely as anything else to unstrap the safety harness and eject us from the vehicle this season. It’s hardly cold sweats in the middle of the night territory just yet, but the thought of pretty much any two or three of the choice XI (bar poor old Richarlison, perhaps) being simultaneously absented from a performance does make one widen the eyes and murmur, “Golly.”

And given this context I’ve been rather grateful to those gods responsible for these things for dealing us but a single absentee each week, allowing us just to dip a tentative toe into the ‘Strength In Reserve’ waters rather than having to plunge in fully and immerse the whole frame. Last week Bissouma was missing; this week Bissouma was back, and Udogie was missing.

In the sort of move that would baffle AANP’s better half, Our Glorious Leader therefore made an entirely rationale decision, and opted for Ben Davies – but any fans of like-for-like performance-matching might have been advised to prepare for a bit of a letdown. Where Udogie gives the term “Left-Back” the loosest possible interpretation, and bounds off to see what’s happening in midfield and attack and so forth, Davies’ approach is what you might call a tad more traditional.

Giving the air of a schoolboy who always did as told, Davies obediently trotted off to the left side of our defence, and made safe upkeep of this territory his priority. Which is not to say he didn’t partake in Ange-Ball and its liberal use of full-backs in attacking areas, but somehow when he ventured up the field he seemed to do so in a slightly robotic manner. If Richarlison received the ball on the left touchline and in advance of halfway, Davies took this as his cue, and dutifully trotted about 20 yards in advance of the action, and waved his arms around as instructed.

Now one could argue that this was precisely what was required, and in precisely the right circumstances – yet somehow this very precision was the problem. Much of the joy of Udogie’s performances is that one never knows quite what the hell he’ll do next, or where for that matter, whereas one could set one’s clock by Ben Davies.

On top of which, I’m not entirely convinced that Davies even had the conventional, defensive duties of a left-back entirely under control. Ayew and various others seemed to cause a spot of consternation down that particular flank, and with such limited outputs in either northerly or southerly directions, one understood the half-time move to trade in a Davies, B. for a Royal, E.

Emerson, whose lilywhite career has already waxed and waned like nobody’s business, is now finding himself having to make a fist of things as a reserve inverted left-back. And while on paper this might sound a bit thick for a born and bred right-back, it’s a role so madcap that it suited rather well a chap quite clearly missing a few key screw upstairs. Emerson swiftly beetled off into a deep-lying central midfield sort of role – alongside Porro, naturally – and the slightly chaotic nature of Ange-Ball’s formations was restored.

2. Richarlison vs Brennan Johnson

As ever, it was a tough old gig for Richarlison, who could not look more like a square peg struggling with a round hole if he were composed entirely of right angles and straight lines. As ever, there was no faulting his effort. Worker ants of the tireless variety could take a few tips from the lad, as he closed down Palace defenders, tracked back after their more attacking bimbos and patiently tried to outwit his man when actually in possession.

He might even have set up a first half goal, and quite brilliantly too, stretching all available sinews to head delicately back into play a ball that seemed to be sailing pretty serenely off into the stands – only for Maddison to lash the resulting gift off into the gods.

But while the various members of the backroom staff will no doubt be lining up to slap his back and commend him on his effort, the slightly awkward truth is that he’s not really delivering much in the way of an attacking harvest.

It’s probably worth reiterating his value in assisting our high press, for this seems to have brought about a decent percentage of the goals we’ve scored in recent weeks – and I can think of one recently-departed member of this parish who, for all his goalscoring, didn’t have the puff to chase down the opposition defence non-stop over the course of a full 90.

But alas. When it came to key passes, tantalising crosses or shots on target, the cup could hardly be said to floweth over. There have been a few inviting passes into dangerous areas during Richarlison’s stint on the left, and a fair number of shots from in and around the area, of varying degrees of inaccuracy. All ten-out-of-ten-for-effort sort of stuff, but it’s not really only effort we’re after, what?

Enter Brennan Johnson, who within about two shakes of a lamb’s tail had played a pretty critical part in a goal, first in rather inventive use of the forehead to control a cross and pass to a chum in the same motion; and then in dashing to the by-line to set up Sonny for a tap-in.

Better minds than mine will pore over the tactical minutiae that distinguished Richarlison’s performance from Johnson’s, but, put bluntly, we just seem to have a bit more attacking threat with the latter buzzing around on the left. One for Our Glorious Leader to ponder in the coming days.

3. Neil Ruddock and Des Walker

Back in the summer of 1993, a pre-teen AANP could be heard excitedly nattering away to anyone who would listen, and many who wouldn’t, that the gossip pages of 90 Minutes and Shoot and whatnot suggested that the lightning quick feet of Des Walker would imminently be speeding around the hallowed turf of White Hart Lane. This would have been pretty sensational stuff on its own, but the prospect of the jet-heeled Walker partnering with resident centre-back Neil Ruddock, a chap whose dispute-settling style might generously be termed ‘firm’, had the youthful AANP pretty giddy with excitement.

Alas, in confirmation of what had gone before, and a dashed certain omen of what was to come, Spurs rather broke my heart, by not only failing to bring Walker to our shores, but also parting with Ruddock that same summer.

The intervening thirty years spent watching our heroes have occasionally been somewhat trying – in fact, at times, particularly during the 90s, it felt like the life has rather drained from my core while watching our lot – but finally it feels that that promise of pace and power at the heart of our defence is being realised. Van de Ven and Romero are quickly morphing into a pretty sensational combo.

Both are about as comfortable in possession as central defenders come these days, which I’m not sure is the sort of accusation that could ever have been levelled at either of Messrs N.R. or D.W. But it is the glorious marriage of Romero’s clattering tackles – light on nonsense, heavy on force – and VDV’s swiftness of travel between points A and B that gives the impression that we have stumbled upon something special here.

Both were, in their own ways, in fine old fettle on Friday night. When Palace did breach the rear – which they did a mite too often in the first half – it seemed to be despite rather than because of our centre-backs, and indeed, Romero and VDV could as often as not be spotted planting a well-timed intervening clog in the way of things, to abate incoming trouble.

The earlier concern, about the potential absence of critical bodies, applies more to Romero and VDV than most, and another Top Four-standard centre-back will almost certainly be needed at some point between now and May. For the time being however, we might as well just enjoy the rare delights of a solid centre-back pairing.

4. Slow-Slow-Fast

My old man, AANP Senior, had the honour of being a regular at the Lane during our Double-winning season no less, so was presumably as excitable as the rest of us in his prime; but now, in his 91st year, he casts the beady eye in rather less forgiving manner. And when Messrs Romero and Vicario spent sizeable chunks of the second half dwelling on the ball under no pressure, before shrugging their shoulders and rolling it between each other, a certain cantankerous gruffling emanated from the aged relative. He was not amused.

Which was a shame, because I thought it was an absolute blast. Palace, understandably enough, had had a game-plan at nil-nil, to sit back and allow our goalkeeper and defenders all the possession they wanted, safe in the knowledge that no harm would come of it. But once our lot were one-nil up, it took a while for Palace to compute that their cause was not helped by simply sitting back and allowing Romero and Vicario to light cigars and natter away amongst themselves.

Eventually therefore, our hosts rather reluctantly committed a body or two towards the ball, and our heroes duly picked them off with aplomb. On several occasions, as soon as a Palace forward inched towards Romero or Vicario, one or other of this pair expertly bisected approximately half their team with a sudden forward pass into midfield.

This in itself provided a healthy dollop of aesthetic reward, but the fun didn’t stop there, as those receiving the thing in midfield were clearly well up on current events, and fully aware of the next stage of the plan. Whether it was Hojbjerg, Porro, Maddison or Sarr, the midfield johnnie receiving the ball would ping it wide, first-time and on the half-turn, and before you could say “This slow-slow-quick approach allows our lot to cut through Palace like a knife through butter, what?”, our heroes were in on goal.

This impeccable choreography was rarely better displayed than in our second goal, that slow-slow-quick approach being at the very core of the move. Romero dwelt and dwelt before neatly picking out Hojbjerg, and he swiftly conveyed the thing to Sarr, who crowned what I thought was a man-of-the-match performance with a glorious cross-field switch, from an innocuous right-back position over to Brennan Johnson in a more threatening left-wing spot. Johnson, as alluded to earlier, used his head to good effect, and a couple of classic Ange-Ball one-touch passes later Sonny was tapping in from point-blank range.

The move, in its entirety from back to front, was an absolute masterpiece, and while the television bods seemed to underplay it a tad, the fact that even AANP Senior was moved to mutter a pithy word or two of semi-satisfaction more accurately reflected its quality.

The late goal – which could be pinned pretty squarely on the otherwise decent Porro – was a reminder to our lot not to settle in for their nap before time is up, but this on balance was another deserved win, leaving only the question of whether Bentancur and Gil will make enough appearances this season to collect their League-winners’ medals in May.

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Spurs match reports

Spurs 2-0 Man Utd: Six Tottenham Talking Points

1. Sarr

Not to be uncharitable to Oliver Skipp – as honest a bean as ever trod the hallowed turf – but when tasked with recalling his contribution to last week’s affair I drew a blank for an uncomfortably long time, before a single word floated to mind: ‘nondescript’.  

The news that young Master Sarr had inherited his berth for this one was therefore met with a raised eyebrow of intrigue in this neck of the woods. Certainly, the mood around these (and, as I understand, many other) parts had been that while Bissouma and Maddison were doing all their respective necessaries, and with flying colours, a job opening was presenting itself for the final part of that midfield triumvirate. Mid-game (last weekend) there had been a few understandable yelps for Lo Celso; give it a few months and the knees will weaken considerably when Bentancur bobs back into view; but I was as curious as the next fellow to see what Sarr might bring.

And to his credit, the young egg brought a decent-sized sackful of the good stuff. Admittedly in the first half hour or so he seemed to be peddling an Oliver Skipp impression – working hard but to little great effect – but for this he could be excused, as Bissouma aside, not too many in lilywhite were having the game of their lives.

Thereafter, however, seemingly struck by the realisation that this stage was actually a pretty good fit for him, he began belting out a few greatest hits. Tackles were won (and as often as not with a spot of additional biff, for meaning), and crisp passes were passed, which meant that he fitted right in with the happy campers all sides of him. That aforementioned triumvirate had a pretty balanced look to it, which might sound like a rather dreary physics experiment but is actually intended as a compliment of the highest order. To Bissouma’s all-action defence-to-attack dribbling, and Maddison’s creativity, one could add decent wedges of energy and intelligence from Sarr.

On top of which he made a difficult finish look pea-shellingly easy. Having already dipped into that well of energy and intelligence to Platt/Scholes/Dele his way into the penalty area at just the right moment, he then managed to keep under control a ball that was both bobbling and moving away from him. Lashed into the net it might have been, but as he swung back the appropriate limb in preparation for his shot, the AANP mortgage was on the ball sailing off into the gods.

Big Ange still seems to be in Test Mode when it comes to identifying the right fit for the starting eleven, but P-M Sarr’s struck me as one heck of an audition for the coming 36 games.

2. Bissouma

As mentioned, however, it was Bissouma and Maddison who again elevated the thing.

Some may have cleared the throat with a spot of indignation at the comparisons to Mousa Dembele being tossed about the place when it comes to Yves Bissouma, but if a fellow is going to collect the ball from his own defenders and then glide past an endless stream of opposing midfielders with little more than a spot of upper-body misdirection, then what else is there to do but draw precisely such comparisons?

A common lament echoing around the walls of AANP Towers last season was that none amongst our midfield number seemed either confident or capable of collecting the ball under pressure, much less shielding it and turning with it and finding nearby chums and whatnot. Close the eyes, and it is not too difficult to conjure up an image of a Skipp, Hojbjerg, Winks or whomever facing their own goal and being bundled out of possession, ensuing catastrophe not far behind.

Bissouma, however, is a different and vastly preferable kettle of fish. Whether receiving the ball just inside his own area or just outside the opposition’s, he seems to exhibit a pretty minimal level of concern either way, and just gets on with the business of dipping a shoulder and easing his way around swinging opposition limbs. It is an absolute joy to behold. Presumably there will come times when this approach backfires and Bissouma comes to look something of a chump, but frankly he is already amassing a decent wodge of credit in the bank.

The newly-signed misfit of last season is unrecognisable. If he really were unable to master Conte’s tactics, then I rather scorn the tactics and the man who oversaw them, because Bissouma has twice in a week looked comfortably the best player on the pitch.

3. Maddison


And Maddison was not far behind him. At times in the first half, and then regularly in the second, he seemed to delight in first demanding the ball and then strutting around with the thing once it had been sent his way.

Nor was it just for show. Be it a pass or a dribble, Maddison seemed pretty adept at picking an option that caused a fair amount of consternation – or blind panic – amongst the United bods. He may not have scored or created a goal today, but his contribution was considerable, not least in that glorious period after half-time when our heroes really had the other lot against the ropes and gave them a good old-fashioned pummelling.

I particularly enjoyed seeing Maddison share a midfield with one Christian Eriksen, the last creative spark to bound about the place. A regular grumble about the latter was that he was a bit too polite about things when in lilywhite, happy to let others grab the mic as it were, while he sidled off into the background.

By contrast, Maddison seems always to be popping up about the place demanding to be involved. I suppose strictly speaking his official position is on the left-ish side of the centre, but the net result seems to be that if the ball is in play then he is merrily bobbing towards it, happy to take on the responsibility of pulling a few of the key strings.

4. Porro

Not that it was all a bed of roses in midfield. As well as Sarr, the other tweak from last week’s line-up was Porro for Emerson, in that right-back-cum-who-the-hell-knows role. It was not Master P.P.’s finest hour and a half. That whole collect-the-ball-on-the-half-turn-outside-one’s-own-area gambit may look a whizz when Yves Bissouma casually unveils it, but Porro’s attempts were rather more on the ham-fisted side of things. Whether it was lack of technique, lack of awareness or lack of eyes in the back of his head, it soon became evident that popping the ball to Porro outside our area was a manoeuvre absolutely dripping in risk.

In truth I felt rather sorry for the young nib. I mean, there he was brought to these shores under the beady eye of one chappie, who then exploded in rage and biffed off, to be replaced by another chappie with vastly different ideas about the way of things. Because lest we forget, Porro was beginning to demonstrate himself to be one of the better wing-backs about the place. Play a vaguely conventional system, and ask him to bomb up the right flank, and he’s your man. Be it crosses, cute passes or pretty lethal finishing, his final third armoury was well-stocked.

And instead, he’s now being asked to tuck inside and spend a goodish amount of time pretending to be three-fifths of a defensive midfielder. As with Emerson last week, he seems to be a fairly capable square peg being asked to rearrange the features in order to squeeze into a round hole. Porro, like Emerson, is pretty decent at what he does best, but this system seems to ask him to do something rather different.

5. Vicario

A successful afternoon’s work for young Signor Vicario. Opinions ranged a bit last week – I was rather taken by his calmness on the ball; others seemed to resent being driven to the brink of coronary failure by it – but this time around we can probably agree that, like or loathe the approach, he did not put too many feet wrong.

His presence certainly adds a pretty natty line of operation to our defensive setup. Whereas in the days of Lloris, on seeing our lot attempt to play out from the back the anthem on the AANP lips was typically some variant of “Just clear the bally thing, dash it,” nowadays I watch on with a curiosity bordering on admiration.

Vicario seems awfully comfortable in possession. Heck, I rather fancy that if necessary he could do a better job than Porro in that spot just outside the penalty area. Well maybe not, but you get the gist. Picking a pass from within the six-yard box seems to be just another unspectacular part of the day-job for the fellow. This brave new era will certainly take a bit of getting used to, but having a goalkeeper as available for a spot of keep-ball as any of the outfield mob certainly makes things a few notches easier.

Vicario also had a handful of saves to make, many of which were straight down his gullet, but one or two of which involved a spot of the old spring-heeled action. And again, say what you want about the aesthetics of it all, but he did precisely what was required in each instance. For all the leaping around in the latter stages, I personally thought that his low block in the early moments, when dashing off his line to face Rashford, was the pick of the bunch.

Still too early to opine wisely either way, but this at least was reassuring stuff.

6. Ange-Ball

So another day, and another triumph for Ange-Ball. Not just in terms of the result, but very much in terms of the performance too. As with last week, and the various pre-season jaunts, this was something that brought the joy back to watching our lot.

The usual caveats apply – we might have been well behind before we really got the hang of the thing; the whizzy football was produced in fits and starts; Richarlison still seems to be playing the wrong sport – but this was often marvellous stuff to take in.

Worth bearing in mind too that we are, in patches, purring away after only about six or seven weeks of the new regime. The draw last week was against a side that has had a settled and organised way of doing things for a season; the win today against a Top Four team whose manager has been in situ for over a year. Frankly, the thought of where our lot might be after a year of Ange makes me rather giddy.

Oddly enough, one of the moments that really left its mark over in this corner of the interweb came from the size nines of Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, a chap who has generally been shovelled well off into the background since Our Glorious Leader came rumbling into view (to the extent that this might have been his final appearance in lilywhite, Atletico-infused rumours doing the rounds).

In the dying embers, Hojbjerg, having been brought on to wise-old-head the game to its conclusion, popped up in a right-back sort of spot – and I mean a conventional right-back spot, rather than the new-fangled midfield-ish one. From out of nowhere, Hojbjerg produced a rather thrilling turn to leave his man groping at thin air, and for a moment he seemed to be away. The pitch opened up ahead of him; momentum suddenly shifted onto the front-foot; that opponent was still groping away in the wrong direction. Opportunity knocked.

But Hojbjerg, being Hojbjerg, responded to this new and exciting possibility by picking the option that I suppose made him so undroppable under Jose and Conte, and put his foot on the ball before spinning around and passing the damn thing backwards. And one understands – the game was almost won and the lead well established, so playing it safe would bring its reward.

But the whole episode jarred rather, precisely because it was so out of keeping with the 180 minutes of Ange-Ball we have witnessed to date. This current Tottenham vintage turns its man and doesn’t look back, but puts its head down and races forward, or at the very least pings off a pass in a northerly direction for some well-intentioned colleague to do the racing forward instead. Watching Hojbjerg default to safety-first seemed to ram home the fact that he was one of the last of the old era, while all around him were Bissoumas and Maddisons and the like, for whom receiving the ball was basically a prompt to go wandering off on the attack.

All a rather long-winded way of saying that this newly-adopted style is absolutely ripping stuff, nascent and rough around the edges though it might be, and I for one cannot wait for the next instalment.  

Categories
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.

Categories
Spurs match reports

Spurs 0-2 Arsenal: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. Lloris

After yesterday’s mess, anyone in the market for a spot of finger-pointing would have no shortage of options, for “Sub-Par” seemed to have been the motto adopted by our lot throughout. Nevertheless, even Hugo Lloris’s own family members would probably have to accept that their man played a pretty critical role in the whole sorry affair.

It would be a stretch to say that we were on top of things, or even matching Woolwich, at the time of his main clanger. Although the scores were level, they were making good use of their extra man in midfield, passing from the back and through our press a little too niftily for my liking and having oodles of joy in that Saka-Sessegnon mismatch.

But nevertheless. The scores were still level, and our lot were showing a bit of willing going forward. On top of which the atmosphere in the place, while hardly confident, was at least still hopeful. When a first-minute pass into the path of Sessegnon on halfway is greeted by a roar the like of which is normally reserved for a goal, you know that the watching masses are suitably bucked. Anything, one felt, might yet happen.

Alas, what did happen was Monsieur Lloris treating us to the latest malcoordinated flail of his limbs. Maddeningly, he had signposted that he was in the mood for a clanger just moments earlier. A back-pass of the harmless variety had landed his way, and rather than just deal with the thing through means cultured or otherwise, he went down the bizarre route of assuming that he would be allowed to saunter unchallenged across his area for as long as he fancied.

Well, it didn’t take 10 years in the Premier League, 100+ international caps and two World Cup Finals to see that that the scheme was doomed. Barely had Lloris started dribbling the thing than an opponent was at his back, and routes to escape were fast disappearing. Lloris sought solace in the form of a countryman, but popping the ball at Lenglet’s right peg added a further layer of complication.

Not that Lenglet should have had too much difficulty in simply blasting the ball to safety, whichever foot was required, being an international footballer and whatnot. But, perhaps taking a cue from his captain, he botched the operation further by giving the ball straight to a Woolwich player in the six-yard box, of all things. In the panic that followed, Lloris at least had the dignity to save at point-blank range, but the awkward glances were already being exchanged.

And sure enough, calamity soon struck. Which is to say a fairly straightforward undertaking was required, and Lloris made a pig’s ear of it again.

One might leap to his defence by pointing to the various mitigating factors about the place. Sessegnon might have done better than simply stepping aside and waving Saka through; the cross when delivered caught a deflection of the small-but-critical variety; and it also came flying in at a rate of knots.

And if the blister charged with minding the net had been a ten year-old, or perhaps an elderly and overweight sort whose hand-eye coordination has always been a bit off, these might well have been acceptable excuses. But for a chappie whose life is dedicated to catching footballs, and who, as mentioned above, has more Premier League and international appearances than one can shake a stick at, such excuses do not wash. Catch the bally thing. Or at the very least buffet it off into a safe space.

Watching Lloris instead pat the ball upwards and backwards into his own net really did have the will to live seep from every pore of my being.

Thereafter, all the saves in the world would have done little to rectify things, because in a game in which we were second-best anyway, it was pretty crucial to avoid gifting them a goal, and similarly crucial to keep the atmosphere charged and hopeful.

Not that Lloris did make all the saves in the world thereafter. Romero was to a large degree at fault for the second goal – first in not bothering to close down the chappie, and then turning his back on the shot, forsooth – but from 25 yards or so one would expect a luminary of the goalkeeping trade to cover his bases and extend a sturdy paw sufficiently. Lloris was beaten too easily, and I imagine there are now few about the place who expect him still to be in situ come the start of season 23/24.

2. Sessegnon

For young Sessegnon already to have been chastised twice above in a sermon about the failings of another player entirely is rather telling.

His selection certainly gave the eyebrows of all in N17 a bit of a pre-match jolt, but one could at least attempt to explain it away, loosely on the grounds of the vivacity of youth – Perisic, after all, while a bit of a specialist with the ball at his feet and the masses howling for a cross, is not the sort of chap at whom one would point and say, “There’s the fellow on whom I wish to build a defence, particularly on account of his breakneck speed”. With Saka in opposition, I presumed that Conte saw in Sessegnon a young bean with enough to pace to thwart Woolwich’s right-sided threat.

A nice idea in theory, but pretty wildly off the mark in practice. How Perisic might have fared in that first half against Saka we’ll never know, but the berth was Sessegnon’s and it was pretty obvious from even casual observation that he was pretty powerless to stop Saka doing whatever he damn well pleased. With neither Lenglet nor Son particularly inclined to help out, we pretty much just resigned ourselves, at least in the first half, to that flank being wide open for business and as good as unmanned.

Sessegnon did show some early inclination to carry out the more attack-minded elements of his role, but even there, having made the necessary gallops into threatening territory, he was let down time and again by a string of crosses that seemed to give up on their mission as soon as they left his foot.

In the interests of fairness it should be noted that his dash infield, which brought about the first-half chance for Sonny, was impressively bobbish. It showed a spirit of enterprise and adventure we otherwise lacked, and was topped off with a surprisingly crafty little diagonal through-ball. What the devil he was doing there, in some sort of Number 10 slot, is anyone’s guess, but it was much-needed.

He also combined neatly with Kane for his one-on-one in the second half, but whatever merit he earns for making the run, he rather loses for failing to bury the chance.

Those two little jaunts aside, I saw precious little in his performance to impress, and even before half-time I was constructing the argument for his removal and replacement by Perisic.

3. Sarr

The other selection of considerable note was that of Pape Matar Sarr. One rather sympathised with the young bounder, for as long Conte sticks with his 3-4-3 then the central midfield pair will almost always find themselves outnumbered, which seemed a rotten hand to deal a fellow on his full debut.

I suppose if one were to cast a cursory eye over a narrative of the first half, and digest that the Woolwich mob cantered through the centre pretty much at will, one might conclude that the Sarr selection was a failure on a par with that of Sessegnon.

However, I am inclined to launch a fairly robust defence of young Sarr. Given that Woolwich employed a midfield three, often supplemented by a fourth in Zinchenko, Sarr admittedly spent a lot of time simply chasing shadows, but, as I have thought of Messrs Benancur and Hojbjerg at various other points in the season, the lad can hardly be blamed for being outnumbered.

When Sarr was able to intervene, he did so well enough. He took to his tasks with plenty of zest, shuttled the ball along to others sensibly and seemed pretty composed when dwindling options forced him to quicken his feet and dance away from trouble.

He is by no means the finished article, and his yellow card was evidence of the fact that this was a midfield battle we definitely lost. On top of which, for all his positives, he is another in the depressingly long list of hard-working but rather functional sorts, when our midfield absolutely screams out for some creativity. However, both in terms of being outnumbered in midfield, and populating said midfield with functional bods, the blame lies squarely with Our Glorious Leader.

All things considered, I thought Sarr bobbed about pretty well. Quite where he stands in the midfield hierarchy is a little unclear – I heard a whisper that Bissouma had a knock, and Bentancur will certainly waltz straight back in, but Sarr, it appears, is now a credible alternative to and possibly preferred option above young Master Skipp.

4. Kulusevski (and Son’s Ongoing Struggles)

If Sarr’s performance was one of our better ones by virtue of being acceptable enough, Kulusevki’s was possibly the best, by virtue of offering an occasional threat.

Not that you’d have known he was playing in the first half, during which time our heroes struggled to string three passes together. Naturally, beginning the second half with a two-goal deficit was the prompt for a slightly improved performance, and it seemed little coincidence that we were far more threatening once it occurred to those in lilywhite that they were allowed to pass to Kulusevski.

He did his usual thing – running literally around opponents, and yet doing so in surprisingly effective fashion; standing up crosses towards the back post; cutting in to curl efforts with his left foot. And on another day, one or two of those little adventures might have brought slightly richer harvest, but even though the conclusion of his little incursions repeatedly fell a little short, his presence and involvement at least sparked us into life.

By contrast, on the other flank, poor old Sonny once again laboured away like the less talented twin of the chappie from last year. As happens every week, he simply failed to run up a head of steam in any respect. Be it a dribble, shot or attempt to shield and hold up the ball, his bright ideas repeatedly came a cropper at source, and not for the first time we were as ten men and one passenger.

Injury and conditioning no doubt forbad an earlier appearance from Richarlison, but the AANP line from pretty early in the second half was to hook Sonny and plop the Brazilian in his place.

5. Conte’s Role In All Of This

For all of the above, however, my principal grumble is not so much the individual performances as the masterplan (a term with which I play pretty fast and loose) from Our Glorious Leader. Yesterday was a neat illustration of how we are getting on under the chap.

The formation, and in particular the use of a back-three, irks the dickens out of me. I suppose in theory one might argue that the more defenders one thrusts onto the pitch the less likely we are to concede. And perhaps amongst most right-thinking folk, this would work out swimmingly, one fellow covering the next fellow, and so on. If the back-three were watertight and achieved clean sheets every week, the case for it would be pretty compelling.

Amongst our lot, however, the back-three is anything but watertight. And not only is it a pretty flimsy structure, its very existence also weakens our midfield. Deploying three central defenders means deploying only two central midfielders; and as evidenced yesterday – and in almost every match this season – our central midfield pair are routinely overrun by opponents with a midfield three.

On top of which our midfield pair offer precious little creativity because their principal role is to destroy rather than to create. In fact, I often wonder if their principal role is simply to gulp down great mouthfuls of oxygen at every opportunity and recover after galloping around trying to do between them the work of three men.

Aside from the formation, The Conte Way irritates because it seems the general philosophy being peddled is to defend rather than attack or entertain. The strength of our squad is undoubtedly its attacking riches, yet Conte’s primary goal each week seems to be to focus on shutting out the other lot. All of which inclines one to fling up the hands and implore them just to attack for heaven’s sake, what?

The fellow seems to be steering our ship until something more to his liking comes along. One year in and his brand of football is neither fun to watch nor particularly impressive on paper (fifth we may be, but we’re pretty comfortably beaten by all of our ‘rivals’). As I saw it put last night, “Conte’s priority appears simply not to mess up”, and this isn’t much fun to drink in every week.