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Palace 1-1 Spurs: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. Eric Dier’s Return

Those whose dispositions are hard and eyes unsmiling will no doubt have noted that after three consecutive wins in a team without Eric Dier, his return to the starting eleven immediately brought an end to the winning sequence. Admittedly – and as fans of Jose will be particularly aware – when it comes to proving anything, Statistics are right up there on the rostrum alongside Lies and Damned Lies. That we failed to win with Dier restored does not automatically make him culpable.

However, the fang-baring critics would no doubt hammer home the fact that young Master Dier can hardly be excused blame simply by citing the age-old defence that It’s-a-team-game-and-all-the-lads-are-in-it-together-so-it’s-collective-responsibility-in-victory-and-defeat-what?

Alas for young Master Dier, when the queue forms for those individually responsible for the goal we conceded, the man himself is slap bang at the front, head bowed and not daring to look either way – as such pretty accurately mimicking his behaviour at the corner from which Palace scored. ‘Dereliction of duty’ just about covers it.

Over in these parts, the objections to Dier’s presence in the team have been pretty well documented, but for those who take one look at the AANP pages and decide they’d be better employed in sawing of their own thumbs than bothering to read it, the gist is that for all his bone-jarring challenges and hard-man persona, the young bean appears to have been designed for stature rather than speed, and therefore seems too often to be a few steps behind the breakneck pace of things; on top of which, for one supposedly comfortable on the ball, his passing strikes me as being as frequently off-boil as on.

The case for the defence would doubtless point to much of his performance yesterday, notably in bailing out the excruciatingly average Davies when trouble began to smoulder on the left side of our defence, and also in taking a few opportunities to stride out of defence and play a forward pass.

Commendable moments indeed, and I suppose it goes to show that life is rarely black and white. Dier has his assets; Dier has his flaws. I nevertheless maintain that he is not of high enough standard, particularly within a team that appears set up to spend up to 70% of a game on the defensive.

(As an aside, it’s also worth noting that when Toby is one side of the centre-back pairing, his partner always looks a notch or two better than when Toby is absent. As with Sanchez in recent weeks so with Dier yesterday. The moral of the story appears to be that Toby is a prized asset whose every wish must be granted and every ailment treated with the utmost concern; and that a top-class partner for the chap would not go amiss.)

2. Another Game, Another Kane Masterclass

Another week, another tour de force from Harry Kane. It’s a quirk of circumstance that if he produced such impressive feats only on an occasional basis they might well be greeted by crowds lining streets, strewing of garlands and a zoom call from the nearest available on-the-ball royal. Instead, precisely because he trots them out so regularly, the general reaction now is simply to shrug, playfully punch someone on the shoulder and declare, “Ah, that Harry Kane, eh? Doing the scarcely believable yet again! And by the way, rain is forecast in the Third Test, wouldn’t you know?”

We take his magnificence for granted because he produces the scarcely believable so regularly. So, ultimately, if the chap is underappreciated, I suppose it’s his own fault.

Yesterday, his goal was made to look pretty straightforward fare, when in fact, of the multiple combinations on offer, the one he adopted was just about the only one that could have brought about a goal. With the entire Palace defence around him and the space of approximately one shoebox in which to operate, he had shifted feet, brought the ball under control and planted a shot at the near post before most of us mere mortals had clocked that he had even taken possession.

On top of which, even those moments in which he drops into midfield to ping an inch-perfect, no-look pass hither or yonder are now becoming something of a weekly occurrence. The chap has somehow turned himself into a combination of both Shearer and Sheringham.

3. A Rush of Excitement When We Concede A Corner

Part of this dubious ‘New Normal’ under Jose, within the hallowed gates of N17, is that the jar marked “Priorities” has been opened, tipped upside down and its contents scattered about the place, so that now one is never really quite sure whether they are coming or going.

It’s a world in which 30% possession is good; semi-permanent residence in or around our own penalty area is to be cheered to the rafters; and a key element of The Grand Plan is quite often simply to bloot the ball 60 yards up the pitch and unleash the hounds in attack.

And an adjunct to this curious state of affairs is that now when we concede a corner, the AANP blood begins to rush around the arteries that much quicker, and the excitement begins to build. This, to repeat, when we concede a corner. When near enough all eleven members of the gang are parked inside our own area and the ball is about to go within spitting distance of our own net.

But such is The Jose Way. Concede a corner, and the opposition merrily send all but two or three of their own mob up the pitch and out of position. Bop the ball away from immediate danger – and the chances of doing so are generally at least in 50-50 territory – and suddenly the tables turn Spurs-wards, because the break is on, and Kane, the three musketeers and any other soul in lilywhite who happens to be captured by the whim are haring up the pitch.

And so, to repeat, when we concede a corner, the AANP eyes light up. Our lot have demonstrated often enough that we can sally along from our area to theirs within about ten seconds and three well-placed passes – and if most of the opposition defence are already up north and well out of position then so much the better.

The principal observation on this peculiar state of affairs (besides from creating a brand of football completely at odds with the Tottenham way) is that it’s a pretty dashed risky game. Now I’m as fond of yelling “Pull” and downing a clay pigeon as the next fellow, but if there is one trait of AANP it is that he knows when and when not to take risks, and as such my dalliance with firearms ends about there. Offer me the clay pigeon and I’m your man; slide a loaded pistol into my hand and murmur about the benefits of Russian Roulette, and I’ll have my polite letter of refusal whipped up within seconds.

Jose, however, seems to thrive on this risk-laden scenario, actively encouraging the opposition to come ever closer to our goal, all with the aim of increasing the chances of a breakneck game of cat-and-mouse when possession is turned over. Its success relies upon the opposition drawing ever nearer to our own goal. The risks were laid pretty bare when Palace used one of their corners to score.

On top of which, on several occasions yesterday, rather than simply clear their lines and be done, our lot played themselves into trouble by dallying on the edge of their own area in search of the perfect pass to set up a counter-attack. One understands the thought-process, but the risks seem huge. As I observed this fandango play out with morbid fascination, the thought did occur that there surely ought to be less risk-laden ways of eking out wins, given the personnel on hand.

4. Europa

It seems almost to discredit the tumultuous nature of the season just endured to declare it over with little more by way of summary than the words, “Sixth; Europa” – and yet, anyone uttering such a truth would be right on the money.

There have, of course, been countless other highs and lows, from Sonny wonder goals to Poch exit-shuffles, but the long and short of it is that Europa it is.

Opinion on this seems somewhat divided. In the Credit column, it is, apparently, a tenth consecutive season of European competition, which, as well as having a pleasing ring about it, also suggests that as a club we are in fairly solid shape, and presumably are spoken of in the high-flying smoking rooms around Europe in terms that are complimentary enough.

Moreover, lest Daniel Levy is casting his eye over these pages, I probably ought to mention that qualification also brings with it £10m, to be stuffed into the back pocket at the earliest convenience. So far, so good, and approving nods all round.

The AANP verdict however, is a little more on the cooler side of things. Whereas every game in the Champions League is sprinkled with some Hollywood sparkle, the earlier stages of the Europa have much about them of the boys’ stag-weekend in some seedy corner of the continent.

Moreover, I cannot shake from my memory the recollection of those seasons in which we did make a decent fist of a Title challenge, only to fall away in the final stages, and be bested by Leicester and Chelsea teams that were free from any European football at all. Not that these things can necessarily be quantified of course, but common sense does suggest that their respective gangs might have been a little fresher towards the latter end of the season for the absence of a constant midweek game in the earlier part. As such, I would quite happily have finished outside the European spots if it meant an improved chance of Top Four qualification next season.

5. Jose’s Talk of Winning The Europa

An additional argument in favour of Europa entry is that it’s an eminently winnable trophy, and indeed this line has been peddled by Our Glorious Leader himself in recent weeks. In fact, he’s been referring to it as a given, stating that if we finish sixth this season we will the Europa next. This did strike me initially as making a fairly sizeable assumption or two, but if he liked to put things that way I saw no reason to stop him.

However, on reflection I found myself growing to admire this take on things. Some might call it arrogance, and it would be a reasonable shout, but Jose comes across as the sort of egg who does not sneeze without carefully planning its timing, audience and calculated effect. When Jose says we will win next season’s Europa, I have a sneaky suspicion that what he is trying to do is gently shove a winning mentality into the heart of the club.

After all, that glorious afternoon of Woodgate’s unknowing header was back in 2008 – we are not a club used to winning trophies. Ours is not a trophy-winning mentality. Eke our way towards a Cup Final and we the fans will dolefully peer around at the other teams left in the competition, and play down our chances – it is a pretty fair bet that the players themselves rarely consider themselves favourites.

So maybe Jose is onto something when he drills into the otherwise vacant loaves of the players that actually this is a trophy that they should be winning. Maybe this is all part of The Plan.

Newcastle 1-3 Spurs: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. Tactics (And The Great Jose-AANP Stand-Off)

I’m not actually on personal terms with Jose, but I suspect that if our paths were to cross we would hit it off immediately like a couple of the boys – jesting away, opening a bottle of the good stuff, maybe even dabbling in a little of that lockdown Spanish I’ve been aprend-ing as it’s a tongue Jose has no doubt mastered. One would not be able to hear one’s own thoughts for all the bonhomie about the place.

However, once conversation turned to the little matter of Jose’s Tactics At N17, I cannot help but think that the music would stop, the room would fall silent and a pretty sinister air would descend, and sharpish. Any knives about the place would be busily employed in cutting the tension.

A win is a win, and two wins in pretty similar fashion have no doubt lifted the gloom. This, I graciously grant him. There was much to admire about the energy and attitude of the players against that ‘orrible lot from Woolwich – and frankly one got the sense that, albeit with a tweak in formation and a little less fraught in general, the formula employed last night was of the Rinse-And-Repeat variety. Our lot politely nudged the initiative back to Newcastle, kept them at arm’s length and then, having floated butterfly-like while Newcastle huffed and puffed, stung them like a whole squadron of bees when opportunity arose.

Back to the meeting of minds in the smoking room, and while Jose would no doubt rattle off a few truths about the upturn in results, tension would remain – as is no doubt common in the meeting of two such esteemed footballing minds – as AANP would insist that our lot did not create enough pretty patterns.

This remains a sticking point at AANP Towers. I’m not sure of the collective noun for debacles, but this nameless entity appeared in all its glory during the course of the Sheffield United, Everton and Bournemouth games (even though we won one of them), representing some of the worst football we’ve seen over the years. Things have undoubtedly improved since, and there is now at least a strategy in place – but the chap calling the numbers last night stated at one point that Newcastle average around thirty-something percent possession per game, and yet we seemed happy to let them have as much of the ball as they pleased!

Our strategy – Jose’s strategy – still seems to be one of sitting back and countering. There are lies, and damn lies, and whatnot, and the stats apparently indicate that since taking the reins Jose has the fourth or fifth best record in the division – but the evidence of our eyes is that this is not entertaining stuff. Nor is there much to suggest that this will change in the new season. In any future social engagements between Jose and AANP, a frosty atmosphere will remain.

2. Lucas Eats His Spinach Again

The tactics might not have met with the sort of thunderous applause within AANP Towers that makes its foundations quiver, but I had approving looks that I was dishing about the place with gay abandon for the personnel involved.

‘Sore Limbs’ was no doubt the headline about the place following Sunday’s exertions, but the same starting eleven took to the field and did as instructed, to solid effect.

As on Sunday, Lucas set the early tone, displaying energy both in possession and in tracking back. His little twinkle-toed dribbles, while rarely amounting to much, did nevertheless quicken the pulse and keep the Newcastle lot honest, and much of the success of the 4-3-3-cum-4-5-1 was due to the workrate of he and Sonny around its boundaries.

3. Kane’s All-Rounding

Before his goals, Harry Kane had been tossed little more than an occasional scrap in the penalty area, so he naturally enough came sniffing around in midfield to see what was on offer, and not for the first time gave the impression of being the pick of the midfield bunch, even though the smallprint prevents this from being legally correct.

It might be to do with the fact that collecting the ball when coming from attack – à la Teddy – gives a greater awareness of options than when advancing from defence, but whatever the reasons, I feel like I could pour myself a splash and spend hours on end watching Kane pick up the ball from deep and spray it around the place.

On top of which, he then scored two goals that could immediately be stamped as ‘No Nonsense’, made to look pretty straightforward despite both being far from. Such is the talent of the chap.

4. Winks: Good, In His Limited Way

Further south, young Winks was as neat and tidy as his haircut demands. Forever sprinting to make himself available for passes, with all the gay vivacity of youth, he then typically bipped a quick pass to a nearby chum and repeated the process from the top.

Put yourself in the shoes of any of the back four or midfield sorts, and one suspects you’d be pretty glad that whenever you received the ball you’d always spot a Winks-shaped blur of movement in the corner of your eye, availing himself for service.

This being AANP however – now officially graduated to middle-aged grump, since Covid began – I cannot simply enjoy this good news with a joyous skip in a nearby meadow. Winks, in his breakthrough seasons had the potential of a lad who might have a pass in his pocket reminiscent of those great lock-pickers of recent years. Where Carrick, Hudd and Modric once cut through great swathes with one well-identified killer ball, Winks, one hoped, would follow.

Alas, the whelp seems not to dare play a pass if it carries a jot of risk. One understands, but as he is hardly a defensive enforcer either, it means that even when near his best – as I fancied he was yesterday – although a useful sort to have about the place he flits between being one thing and another, fulfilling the key requirements of neither.

Those yearning for Winks to evolve into a Carrick, Hudd or Modric will be disappointed. Winks has value, and yesterday I thought he was possibly the pick of the bunch, but I suspect this is as good as he will get and as much as he will offer.

5. Lamela And The Impact Subs

It was a big day for impact subs, which I suppose we ought to have foreseen given the short turnaround between games.

It turns out that young Bergwijn had one of his less glorious cameos, when one sits down and actually counts all the beans, but one cannot help but be enthused by what he brings in general, and yesterday he delivered the sort of cross (for Kane’s first goal) that I suspect few of us realised he had in his repertoire.

And then there’s Lamela. Quite the curio this chap. Plainly capable of reaching outrageous heights, when signed there was a murmur that he would become for us essentially what Mo Salah became for Liverpool, even though we signed him before Mo Salah became Mo Salah for Liverpool – which does make the head swim a bit.

The gist is that hopes were high. Fast forward six or seven years, and every Lamela performance is so similar that bingo cards can be produced allowing the eagle-eyed punter to tick off his contributions.

A niggly sort, he will undoubtedly hare around and snap at ankles, often in the late fashion that earns reprieves and stern words if not cards, from the resident officiators.

And then there is his on-ball stuff, which typically involves:
A) A promising dribble, segueing into:
B) The realisation that he is still on the ball when several passing opportunities have been and gone, followed by:
C) The roll of watching eyes as one realises that he is still on the ball, having taken half a dozen touches more than were necessary, but is now being swarmed upon and crowded out.

Add to this the fact that he will roll his foot over the ball at every opportunity – even, in defiance of the laws of physics, when passing it – and one can probably yelp “Lamela Bingo!” and claim a small fluffy toy.

But like a broken clock a couple of times a day, the chap does strike oil, and just as it seemed that his latest dribble was about to result in that swarmed-upon-and-crowded-out routine (C, above), he somehow step-overed his way to freedom and teed himself up for a shot. Quite how he did so is still being investigated, but credit where due, it was pretty special stuff. A shame he could not apply the coup de grâce himself, but it resulted in a goal nevertheless.

Spurs 2-1 Arsenal: Six Tottenham Talking Points

1. Jose’s Masterplan

Being a noble sort, having spent the last six months aiming pelters at Jose from all angles for the bad he has done our club, I have no problem whatsoever in muttering a grudging half-compliment in his direction, for masterminding The Most Jose Victory Imaginable. Cut AANP open and you find humility coursing through his veins.

I asked on these very pages last week whether we would take a trophy playing the way we have been (specifically it was after beating Everton in a game that made the nation’s eyes bleed) – and while the answer over here is, I’m afraid, still a resounding “Not on your life,” nothing soothes the soul like beating that ‘orrible lot from South London. Seeing Sol Campbell looking so deflated in the telly box afterwards was a charming bonus.

The second half in particular spelled out in huge font exactly how The Masterplan was to work. Team Lilywhite kept their shape admirably, and made the conscious decision to rock onto the back foot and soak up all that Arse could throw our way. An approach not without risk, but to their credit each individual carried out their instructions, maintaining discipline in both position-keeping and decision-making.

It would be stretching things to say it was backs-to-the-wall stuff, “Arm’s length” being the more accurate headline for that particular half hour’s frivolities, and let’s not forget that Arse were within a lick of paint of getting their goal and leaving us in a considerable pickle.

The reward on this defensive investment came in the form of counter-attacks, which gradually increased in frequency as the second half wore on. The pace of Sonny and occasionally Lucas, coupled with the usual bloody-mindedness of Kane, ensured that there was plenty of threat about this counter-attack, and with Arse boasting their very own version of Serge Aurier in that lad Mustafi, opportunities for our lot going forward were scattered surprisingly liberally. Indeed, in the final ten or so, once Arse had to chase the game, we might have had far more than just the single-goal lead.

2. Formation

Having tinkered on a weekly basis with personnel, formations and intricate instructions involving lopsided wing-backs when attacking and interchanging of positions depending on the angle of the sun in the sky, Jose switched to 4-4-2, and a calm descended upon the team.

Given that this has become the worst Tottenham side since the 90s, there was a pleasing symmetry to the choice of this most 90s-esque formation, but it proved a good move. For a start, any reversion to 90s popular culture gets the AANP Seal of Approval, and moreover 4-4-2 seemed a sufficiently uncomplicated system for even our most stupid personnel to understand.

It was pretty rigid stuff, but after the interpretative dance routines that have been on display defensively in recent games, some rigidity was much needed. Within this 4-4-2 the instructions were pretty clear all round. Essentially, all eleven were popped into position at the outset, ordered to stay there throughout, and just like that we had some much-needed structure.

In fact, rather than a 90s homage, there was something of ‘Arry’s Tottenham about the set-up, with Winks and Lo Celso giving passable imitations of Hudd and Modric on sentry duty in front of a back four.

Whether or not this is the formation to be adopted going forward remains to be seen, but it was both charming and, crucially, effective in its simplicity. Our lot held their positions and repelled whatever was thrown at them, limiting Arse to precious few clear chances, and countered in a speedy blur of legs as the game wore on.

3. Lucas’ Contribution

Of course, all the planning in the world, masterful or not, would have counted for precious little if our heroes had wandered off and boiled their heads, so it was a blessed relief that by and large they obediently carried out instructions like a pack of well-trained Labradors.

It was also pretty crucial that they displayed a dashed sight more vim about their business than in recent weeks. Admittedly, the bar in this respect could hardly have been lower, but it was still necessary that someone set the tone, and in this respect Lucas made his most important – and, some cynics might impertinently intone, his first – contribution since The Miracle of Amsterdam, by racing out of the starting blocks to thwack a first-minute effort against the palms of the Arse goalkeeper.

That it did not go in was relatively moot – the important point was that at least one of our lot appeared sufficiently awake to have understood that a football match was in progress, and if any of his teammates had missed the memo beforehand, that contribution might have reinforced the message.

Lucas looked lively throughout the first half, albeit within the confines of his left midfield pen. In a curious way, the limitations of his position seemed to liberate him, and he did not need asking twice to get his head down and attempt a dribble.

Even more impressive was his vision and weighting of a pass into Kane in the second half – from which, I think, Kane’s saved shot brought about the corner from which Toby scored. Admittedly there is something of the butterfly-flapping-wings-in-one-continent-and-all-hell-breaking-loose-in-another about that, but it was a heck of a pass nevertheless. Others may get the plaudits (although the game was not brimming with stand-out contributions), but Lucas’ little inputs played their part.

On an editorial note, I have since found out that he made more tackles than anyone else seemingly in history, so back-slaps galore in his direction.

4. Serge Aurier – Still Our First Choice Right-Back

Meanwhile, Serge Aurier was busy doing what Serge Aurier does.

That none of his moments of utter cranial absence resulted in goals/penalties/red cards does not mask the fact that he still continues to litter them about the place with the carefree insouciance of a man who knows there is not another bona fide right-back at the club.

(Strictly speaking one might point an accusing finger at him for not mopping things up immediately prior to the first Arse goal, but given that the goal was both a) random and b) blistering in nature, I’ll deign to excuse him for that one.)

The goal aside, Aurier produced his usual medley – a needless corner here, a needless going to ground there. And this, head-scratchingly, is our undisputed number one when it comes to the number 2 shirt.

Young Walker-Peters has at least been gaining playing time out at Southampton, but the chap does not yet appear anywhere near the standard needed for a supposed CL team. Other options at right-back include Foyth, Toby and Sissoko – none of whom were sculpted for the role by Mother Nature.

When one harks back to the Walker-Rose axis of a few years ago, one realises quite what a difference a top class full-back can make. Aurier at right-back is a wrong that needs righting as a matter of priority this summer.

5. Toby’s Many Virtues (Including Not Being Eric Dier)

Mercifully, at the other end of the scale of Defensive Ability from Aurier sits Toby Alderweireld.

Had Eric Dier not waded into the stands to engage in polite conversation all those months back, he might not have been banned, might still be starting in defence and, arguably, our back-four would not have looked half as robust as it has done since he was bundled off the stage and Toby brought in.

Random, unprompted moments of defensive madness are now at a minimum, which might sound a strange compliment to pay any team above Sunday League level, but when one considers quite how many goals we’ve conceded from individual errors this season, this absence of U.M. of D.M. actually becomes pretty crucial. And Toby can take a heck of a lot of credit for this.

For a start, he just does not make as many mistakes as Dier and Sanchez, on top of which his reading of the game generally has the effect of dousing a fire before the flames ever really kick in and make merry.

One can only speculate, but as a supporter the presence of Toby in the back four immediately lowers the pulse, reduces the greying and adds a few years onto life expectancy; one imagines that behind the diplomatic witterings the players themselves must be queueing up to thank Jose for picking him.

Lovely headed goal, too (and when was the last time we ever saw the late, lamented Christian Eriksen deliver a corner of that quality?)

6. The Jose Way’ vs ‘The Tottenham Way’

A win against that lot is always to be enjoyed, but I maintain that there is something galling about seeing our heroes set up to defend and counter. Ceding possession and camping in our own defensive third seems to me a little too close to announcing that we consider ourselves not as good as the other lot, and avoiding going toe-to-toe.

One would understand the sentiment against Barcelona away, but this is a fairly moderate Arse side. At what point do we consider ourselves capable enough simply to outplay an opponent? And, more to the point, aren’t we a club built upon the notion of outplaying an opponent, making exceptions only for the likes of Barcelona away – and even then only because there is a home leg to come?

It might be, however, that insisting that we stick to The Tottenham Way, at a time when confidence is shot and a result is desperately needed, is simply allowing pride to have its devious way – and since we’re going so big on 90s themes today, it is probably worth remembering that Marcellus Wallace, of Pulp Fiction fame, had some pretty pointed and uncomplimentary thoughts on pride. In short, he was not a fan.

I maintain that most other managers worth their salt would find more pleasing ways to get us from A to B. However, for now at least, Jose it is – and this appears to be The Masterplan. Yesterday it could not have been much more effective, but the prospect of this approach becoming the norm in N17 does still makes one shudder with a nameless fear.

Bournemouth 0-0 Spurs: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Jose’s Masterplan

Being the trusting sort – the sort who, when a friend says they’re popping out for a minute, will dutifully count to sixty before wondering whether to call the police – I’ve always been inclined to trust that my elders and betters have a pretty panoramic view of things and know exactly what they’re up to.

It would happen under Sven, when, like an obedient dog wagging the tail at its master, I’d ignore the evidence of every previous knockout game in which we clung on to a one-goal lead for dear life before losing on penalties, and assume that this time the chap had learnt from mistakes and hatched a more nuanced plan.

So when Jose breezed through the front door, despite having yowled beforehand that he wasn’t the AANP choice, I sucked up the theory that here was a chap who by hook or by crook – or by downright negativity – ground out results, and duly toddled over to present him with the benefit of the doubt.

Alas, that innocence of youth has now been ground into the dust, and replaced by the sort of cynical and weary scowl generally reserved for Dickensian undertakers who go around startling folk in the shadows. Where previously I would have stuck up for the blighter in charge, match after match, this time I’ve seen enough, and I sneer at the man who claims he hasn’t.

The bods who know about these sort of things define “despair” as “the absence of hope”, and if that’s the case then it exists by the sackload within these four walls. There is nothing to offer a semblance of hope at present. To a man, not one of our lot seem to be playing above themselves; as a team there is no sense of a plan. Regarding the former, it would be a handy bonus if Jose could coax a little individual improvement here or there; but in terms of the latter the chap ought to take full responsibility, and this absence of a plan has seen AANP fly through all seven stages of grief within the space of 90 minutes while observing our heroes impotently flail away.

I now watch our lot out of a sense of duty, rather than any sliver of hope, excitement or enjoyment – and if that isn’t a nadir I don’t know what is.

This season is now a write-off. Much therefore hinges on how well – or otherwise – we begin 20/21.

The hope is that, irrespective of results, we start playing with some flair or, at the very least, some semblance of a strategy (beyond soak up and hope to counter). If Jose has a masterplan, it absolutely has to be unveiled this summer.

Likelier, and presumably the subject of Daniel Levy’s bedtime prayers, is that the turgid style of play remains in situ but results at least improve. This strikes me as the worst of all worlds, as it would mean this bizarre brand of anti-football remains without a cat in hell’s chance of shifting the man at the helm.

The other potential scenario is that even after a pre-season and a signing or two, we start next season peddling this same garbage, and results remain no better than mid-table fare, or worse. If CL qualification next season appears unlikely from the autumn, Paymaster Levy’s trigger finger would presumably itch. By virtue of including the most welcome by-product of the sacking of Jose, this is numero uno on the AANP wishlist, scrawled in block capitals and double-underlined.

2. Lo Celso: Counter-Attacking vs Static

When one can witter away about the manager for so long and still struggle for comment about the game itself, you know it’s been a stinker, and this, yet again, was another contender for “Worst We’ve Witnessed.”

For the second time in a week, Lo Celso, having slightly desperately been heralded over here as the great hope for our future, was given the luxury of a couple of more defensive-minded sorts behind him. As such, he appeared to have a licence to slink forward and do his darnedest – and while the awfulness of recent weeks has tempered excitement levels, there was still a little hope here at AANP Towers that this might be the moment for the lad to puff out his chest and take on the responsibility of string-puller-in-chief.

No such luck. Whatever malaise is infecting our heroes, Lo Celso is not immune, and he pottered around no more or less toothless than anyone around him.

It currently appears that he is at his best when taking the reins as we counter-attack. When everything is a blur of limbs, and everyone is on the gallop towards the opposition goal, Lo Celso sparks into life. He seems to be blessed with the knack of spotting a pretty smart pass whilst on the run, as well as the ability to weight it just so.

By contrast, when the game stodgily meanders, with the opposition in defensive position and our lot endlessly knocking the ball sideways, Lo Celso seems no better informed than anyone else on how to put an end to the dreadful torpor.

3. Important Save From Lloris

The stock of our World Cup-winning captain has just about fallen off a cliff in the last season or two, as needless clanger has followed needless clanger, but yesterday he earned his weekly envelope in pretty smart fashion, on the one occasion on which some quick thinking was required.

It was towards the end of proceedings, when a Bournemouth chappie randomly scampered into our area, his progress completely unimpeded by anyone in light blue. A disastrous finale appeared imminent, but Lloris displayed a hitherto unseen sprinkling of common sense by dashing from his line, spreading himself in the manner of one attempting to frighten a small child and generally doing enough to smother the incoming shot before the attacker had a chance properly to weigh his options and do anything decisive.

It was worth a goal, and having stocked up on rotten tomatoes with which to pelt Lloris for errors in previous weeks, decorum dictates that I tip the cap in his direction for this.

4. Toby and Jan

It might not necessarily be a popular view, but I was far from disappointed to hear that Eric Dier was to be marched off the premises and locked in a dungeon for the next couple of weeks. Weighing the chap’s pros and cons, I find little to recommend his presence amongst the troupe.

His principle asset appears to be that aggressive, no-nonsense outlook he has on life, which typically translates into crunching tackles, the like of which, admittedly, are not usually a feature of Team Lilywhite. However, such challenges are of little value when mistimed, which his seem to be as often as not. Rather than keeping a lid on things they tend to result in free kicks and yellow cards.

Neither is he blessed with blistering pace, and when stationed in central defence, the notion of him being one of life’s natural leaders and organisers is not necessarily supported by the evidence of recent weeks, in which our defence has shown all the organisation of a gaggle of toddlers on a sugar rush.

In contrast to the shambles of recent weeks, for which Dier was not the only culprit but certainly amongst them, yesterday we were treated to the restoration of the Jan-Toby axis, and life at the rear of the team immediately appeared more serene.

Blistering pace they might not boast, but both Belgians know their eggs and position themselves adroitly, and their performances were notable for the general absence of drama throughout. No Dier-esque mistimed challenges, no Sanchez-esque misjudgements of flighted balls. Two appearances by Toby have brought two consecutive clean sheets. All set for Sunday then.

Spurs 1-0 Everton: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. The Fight!

Fling around the words “fight” and “football match” in the same sentence and the chances are that the images conjured will be of burly sun-kissed sorts greeting one another through the crashing of plastic seats against skulls, the flailing of muscled limbs and the spraying of blood like nobody’s business, prompting the nearest politician to remind us how disgraceful it all is.

So if news had reached the uninitiated of the unchecked melee that was yesterday’s Lloris-Son confrontation, over-protective parents would no doubt have forbidden their offspring from ever again watching Spurs in action, for fear of uncontrollable violence breaking out on our screens at any given moment.

As it happened however, this was just about the most Spurs “fight” imaginable, with all the vicious thuggery of a token attempt at a tackle by Glenn Hoddle. Lloris’ scent for blood was so wild that he was moved to give a gentle push not to Son himself but to the chap standing in between him and Son; while Son for his part, looked like he was about to burst into tears, and wanted the solace of a hug from his mother, and pronto.

Nevertheless, it ranks as one of the highlights of Jose’s reign to date. Admittedly there’s hardly stiff competition on that front, but the sight of someone in lilywhite actually caring enough to do anything other than cruise through the game on autopilot was just about the most encouraging development of the resumption so far. And if some uncouth blasphemies were uttered in the process then so much the better. “All for a greater good”, was the motto on AANP’s lips.

With performances as bad as they’ve been since the 90s, and the good work of five consecutive seasons fairly thoroughly undone over the last 12 months, our mob have been typified by lack of urgency in attack, lack of organisation in defence – and, crucially, underpinning the whole sorry saga has been a general level of fight throughout the team that rarely extends beyond an unconcerned shrug of the shoulders. The sort of shrug that says “Things aren’t ideal old sport, granted, but one can’t expect me personally to do much to change things around here, and if you ask me mid-table obscurity is not such a bad thing”. In short, not the sort of shrug one wants to see from our brightest and best.

So to witness the captain come haring halfway up the pitch to have a yelp at a teammate (over what was actually a fairly minor indiscretion) was a most welcome departure from the norm. Whisper it, but if that attitude spreads then standards around the premises might even rise a notch or three.

Like or loathe them, young bucks like Kyle Walker and Benny Assou-Ekotto at least played the game as if their lives depended upon winning their individual on-pitch duals, and Lloris’ peculiar meltdown suggested that maybe an echo of that mentality lingers.

Some might make stern clucking noises, and point to Eric Dier’s attempt to clobber someone in the stands, various players whingeing about their contract situation and now a push-and-shove between teammates, and pontificate that if this isn’t the end of days then they don’t know what is. In these parts, however, Lloris’ little huff was most welcome, and it is fervently to be hoped that the attitude spreads.

2. The Return of Toby

Before the distraction of seeing peers and teammates attack each other with wild abandon, the highlight of what was, even by our recent standards, some pretty stodgy fare, was the return to honest employment of Toby Alderweireld.

To say that I reacted to news of his return like a child glimpsing a long-absent father-figure and promptly dropping everything in order to dash into his arms and receive a comforting embrace would be overstating it, but only just.

If the previous week’s game vs Sheffield Utd had taught us anything, it was that our defence was an utter shambles, light on organisation and communication, and pretty much inviting all-comers to gambol within and do as they pleased. I mention this because in the areas of organisation, communication and giving the stern eye to all-comers hoping to gambol, Toby ranks amongst the best. He certainly strikes me as the best in our current ranks. Probably not scaling the peaks of yesteryear, when “Think again, laddie” seemed to be the catchphrase delivered to any opposing attacker who wanted to try their luck, but reports of his descent into immobility and redundancy seem pretty wildly off the mark.

And so, the quiet removal of the Dier-Sanchez axis, and return of Toby, immediately injected a sense of composure where previously it had been open season on panic. He might not be the fleetest of foot, but Toby immediately transmits an aura of calmness in defence – and given the cluelessness of last week we needed all the defensive calmness we get could our hands on.

The official party line was that Toby was back because he is better at playing the ball out from defence than Sanchez. This arguably is true, but it also rather kindly overlooks the fact that Toby is still a dashed sight better at judging flighted balls, intercepting, man-marking and organising.

As it happened, he was not tested too rigorously – but neither did he suddenly make himself noticeable by producing a horrendous misjudgement out of nowhere.

3. Lo Celso Underwhelms

Pre-match, I actually went as far as to look forward with some excitement to what the following 90 minutes would bring, because the teamsheet suggested that Lo Celso might be deployed in the sort of advanced position that would provide the perfect platform for one of his vision and technique to run the entire performance.

The stage was certainly set, with Winks behind him to do the tidying, and Sissoko available to do the legwork.

Alas, Lo Celso himself gave the air of one who had had an early look at what was on offer and decided that it was not for him. In the latter stages he picked one or two well-weighted passes, but by and large this was one of those games in which he seemed content simply to mooch along in fairly inconspicuous fashion.

I still retain confidence that he will be the chap around whom our team will be built, but yesterday was good opportunity for him to peddle some of those creative wares, and when the hour cometh, the man largely faded into the background.

4. Sonny: Man of the Match By Default?

During the dying embers of the game my Spurs-supporting chum Dave noted in socially-distanced fashion that one would have the dickens of a job trying to name a Man of the Match, and in this respect he spoke sooth. Even by our recent standards, this was about as turgid as it gets.

Mercifully, in Everton we played opponents even more devoid of inspiration than we are, which I would not have thought possible beforehand, but there you go, what?

I struggle to think of any clear chances created, nor many slick passing moves, beyond one in the first half involving Kane, Lo Celso and Son. Slim pickings, and it was entirely in keeping with a game in which moments of skill barely registered on the meter that the only goal was a deflection on a shot that was flying well wide of the mark.

Young Winks, I thought, buzzed around busily and tidily without ever doing anything remotely threatening in possession, but only Son really looked like he would give the Everton defence any cause for concern. There was rarely any end product, as the other lot got wise pretty swiftly to his trick of shifting onto his right foot and curling, but nevertheless, every time he got the ball he at least showed some urgency. (Albeit not enough to keep happy Monsier Lloris.)

And that was that. Another Spurs-supporting chum asked at full-time whether I would accept every game being like that if it meant winning a trophy, and I rather gagged a little at the prospect. Even in the short-term, we are faced with the ignominy of finishing in the Europa League position, which seems like the worst of all worlds. A thousand times better, of course, to have won last night than lost, but I rather sense that we’ll have to wait until next season to get a sense of Jose’s big grand plan.

Sheff Utd 3-1 Spurs: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. The Exciting Front Four In The First Half!

Nothing like a jot of positivity before we get stuck into the gloom, what? And in that jolly vein, I thought that in the first half, going forward our lot had a decent dollop of oomph.

In that glorious first 45, possibly excluding the opening 5 or 10 in which Sheff Utd started stronger, the case was made for a front four sans Dele, at least when counter-attacking. Lucas, Bergwijn and particularly Son seemed each to derive a certain pleasure from getting their heads down, revving up the motor and haring away.

Where Dele dances and pirouettes and takes umpteen touches seemingly intent on slowing things down so that we might all take our seats and marvel at the Dele Alli Fancy Touches Show, these three were keener to get from A to B in the quickest time possible.

The disallowed goal, far from knocking the stuffing from us, seemed instead to pique our lot, and by the time the half-time toot sounded an equaliser, if not exactly an inevitability, looked a heck of a decent bet.

Admittedly, despite our 70% possession, on the two or three occasions on which our hosts set foot in our area they looked like scoring, but more about our defensive shambles anon. For one further sentence, let’s just marvel at the first half threat we occasionally posed!

2. Yet Another of the Worst Performances We Can Remember (Esp. The Defending)

Thereafter, alas, things took a lurch southwards, and the second half ranks as one of our worst since the 90s – or it would do if there weren’t so many poor performances this season alongside which it shuffles neatly into place. Brighton away and Leipzig spring immediately to mind, but I suspect that I’ve managed successfully to expunge a couple of other debacles from the loaf, through the cunning use of copious amounts of post-match bourbon.

Back to the second half. As soon as the players were released from the traps the set-up began to wobble like the dickens. We continued to have the bulk of possession, making it a smashing evening for fans of multiple-touch football and slow and ineffective passes.

It was a less triumphant affair for those who had rather hoped that our lot might fight tooth and nail for every loose ball. It should not be possible to be so obviously second best despite having twice as much possession, and yet there in full technicolour was the proof.

As if the impotent attacking play and general lack of fight were not enough, we were also treated to defending the like of which had us rubbing our eyes and wondering if some elaborate hoax were in effect. Despite having been under the watchful tutelage of that supposed master of the art of defending, Our Glorious Leader himself, for the past few months, our lot approached their defensive duties in the style of a troupe to whom the concept of football had been newly introduced only an hour or two earlier.

It began in the first half, as each time a United player set foot in our area, despite there being copious bodies back in the general vicinity, not one of them thought to close the blighter down. We got away with it once or twice, but when United scored their opener the chap did so having had the time to settle in and make a cup of tea beforehand, despite half our team being in situ in the penalty area.

And then it happened again for their second. The various Tottenham bodies scuttled back into the six yard box, and then actively ignored the whereabouts of either ball or opposing players. They simply loitered in their chosen spots and watched as the United lot freely sauntered into the gaping spaces.

What the dickens is Jose teaching them? What are they saying amongst themselves? How are these paid professionals quite so incapable of grasping the basics?

Time for a sit-down and a stiff drink.

3. Pretty Poor Stuff in Midfield Too

Nor was this solely a disaster for the back four, although the tactic of squashing themselves into a narrow line within the six yard box and hoping that nothing bad would happen beyond that was pretty peculiar stuff. The midfield played their part by virtue of letting United breeze through them at will when on the defensive, and offering precious little going forward.

Perhaps I do them an injustice, when one considers the first half. Lo Celso certainly didn’t offer much, happy to slink into the shadows when he really ought to have been bounding around screaming for the ball so that he could direct operations.

But Sissoko in the first half made a couple of rather odd forays into the limelight, demonstrating much that is good and bad about him, often in the same motion. More than once he picked up possession from deep and charged forward in that unstoppable fashion of his, only to reach the point at which a decision ought to be made and duly panicking, in that slightly comical fashion of his.

The pair of them were neither a defensive shield nor a font of attacking ideas, and by the second half they numbered amongst our numerous passengers.

(A note on the rarely-sighted Ndombele: not much reason either to laud or chide the fellow, but the one pass he played, for an offside Son to pop into the net, was a little reminder that he does have in his locker absolutely exquisite vision.)

4. Lamela and His Many, Many Touches

I happened to read the other day that Erik Lamela has been at the club something like six or seven years now, which is a pretty extraordinary act of misdirection on his part. How did he get away with that?

So often hinting at a game-changing trick or two, and always charging around with the very welcome sackfuls of aggression but also rather regrettably low intelligence of a wounded bull, the young bean yet again expended a lot of energy without delivering anything of note.

Heaven knows how he fares in those training ground exercises in which only one or two consecutive touches are allowed, because he wanders the pitch with the air of one who was deprived of his own ball as a child, and now insists on keeping it to himself for as long as possible, before being swarmed upon by opponents.

Lockdown has been a test for all of us, but few things have driven me to swear out loud within an empty room like the sight of Lamela taking umpteen more touches than is necessary before messing up the end-product.

5. VAR – Not A Game-Changer, As We Were Perfectly Rubbish Without It, But Still Odd

Few right-minded folk will stomp their feet with too much animation about the VAR decisions, given how bad we were thereafter, but as ever the decisions did make one scratch the head and wonder if the point of spotting clear and obvious errors has been lost somewhat.

With respect to the disallowed goal, eggs is eggs and rules, unfortunately, are rules. Deliberate or not, fouled or not, if the ball hit Lucas’ hand then the case for the prosecution can sign off early. An iffy rule no doubt, but the honest souls paid to watch on a screen and make a decision are only carrying out orders.

My objection, rather, was that it did not appear 100% – or, to you use the parlance de jour, it was not “clear and obvious” – that the ball struck the hand/arm of Lucas at all. A case could be made that it did, a case could be made that it did not, but clear and obvious it was not. (And of course, it should have restarted with a free-kick.)

I was equally miffed that a moment or two later a Sheff Utd player (Norwood?) who had only just been booked escaped scot-free having taken a look at Sonny, raised an arm and given him a healthy clobbering to the head. A straight red card in the AANP book of such things, and even when looked at more objectively it might have been deemed a second yellow; but such is life’s rich tapestry.

Let none of it distract minds, however, from the fact that we were utter garbage and our defence is populated by incompetents.

Spurs 2-0 West Ham: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Kane Getting Back Up to Speed

This whole thing was a marked improvement on the previous grilling, vs Man Utd – which admittedly was not difficult, given how low we set the bar on that occasion – and as Kane motored off into the distance to pop the cherry on things it struck me that his individual performance loosely summed up the general gist of things.

Against Man Utd he had barely registered his participation, seeming to serve decorative value only and appearing to have forgotten many of the basics of physics whenever involved in the action, judging by his negligible ball control and pretty severe case of the huffs and puffs when required to move. Similarly, our lot as a whole seemed unfit, devoid of ideas and pretty content to tick the box marked ‘Passive’ rather than ‘Active’.

Yesterday, however, Kane gave a pretty good impression of one who, if not necessarily firing on every conceivable cylinder, was nevertheless giving the engine a pretty thorough going-over – and indeed, the team as a whole at least seemed to peddle a bit more ambition than before, albeit against pretty limited opposition.

Those keenly observing Kane’s performance, with checklist in hand and pen at the ready, were kept well involved throughout. There were early hints that his memories of former glories were returning, as in the first half he pinged a shot from distance and then spread play to the wings – with the outside of his boot, no less – both pretty sure signs that, having been kept hidden from view against Man Utd, the Kane of old was making a bid for freedom here.

It continued in the second half with a lung-busting sprint of all things. Admittedly this ended in anticlimactic fashion, with him dragging his shot wide, but nevertheless, for a chap whose likeliest weakness is probably a lack of pace, the sight of him overtaking various defenders as he hared towards the penalty area would no doubt have had some pretty knowing looks exchanged in living rooms across the country.

And as if to emphasise the point, he did near enough the same thing again ten minutes later, but to better effect. The weighting of Sonny’s pass helped no end, meaning as it did that there was little need to break stride or take too many touches, but Kane’s hamstrings still held up well to the rigours of a dash towards goal, and his finish made the whole thing look vastly more straightforward than it was.

He then lay on the ground for around a minute refilling his lungs, but one can excuse that. It might not quite be peak Kane just yet, but this was far brighter stuff than I had dared hope.

2. Dele’s Free(Ish) Role

After West Ham’s initial ten-minute surge had gone up in smoke, and possession was ours to do with as we pleased, the game gradually settled into that age-old conundrum of how to break down two banks of four that have set up camp and desire little more in life than to remain that way with net untroubled.

A pretty convoluted plan seemed to have been concocted in this respect, with The Brains Trust deciding to cut their losses on Aurier by stationing him up the pitch as a right winger, thereby minimising his capacity to produce the calamitous within shooting distance of his own goal.

Meanwhile on t’other flank Ben Davies had presumably been fitted with one of those tagging devices that prevented him from mooching too far beyond the halfway line.

All of which meant that Sonny was our sole representative on the left flank and therefore had limited opportunity to cut infield and hare towards goal, and the AANP was left swimming a bit as it tried to work out the mechanics of the whole thing.

In short however, all the tactical scrawls in the world could not disguise the fact that our lot were pretty ponderous in possession – neither shifting the ball quickly when they had it, nor moving enough off the ball when they didn’t.

The pleasing exception to this rigidity was Dele. Whether under instruction to do so or simply exercising his autonomy and going where he pleased, as young folk will do, the rascal floated hither and thither, and by so-doing added a drop of the unexpected to our gentle probings.

Only a drop, mind. There was much of the inside left about his role, but when opportunity arose he seemed to go for a wander into pockets of space – on one such occasion inviting a lovely through ball from Davies, who had evidently broken his own positional diktat to wander up the pitch, and Dele was away in the penalty area.

The young egg’s swagger was also in evidence once again, with drag-backs and flicks aplenty. This can grate a little – there is, after all, a time and a place for such nonsense – but in general I thought he struck the right balance, injecting a little spontaneity into our attacking play that otherwise was pretty heavily steeped in the monotony of sideways passing.

It was a shame for him that he was hooked early in the second half, just as the game began to open up and the fun to start, but this constituted a decent innings on his return to the side.

3. Lo Celso Easing Into The Groove

The Man of the Match gong was officially awarded to Lo Celso, which was reasonable enough, but there is certainly more to come from the chap.

In the first half in particular, when, as mentioned above, we laboured to precious little effect, I thought we might have benefitted from grabbing the lad by his armpits, hoisting him into the air and depositing him some twenty yards further up the pitch, to sprinkle some mischief. In a world of sideways pass upon sideways pass, the vision and technique of Lo Celso makes him stand out as one of the few amongst us who might magic a chance out of nothing.

Indeed, on the one occasion that he did make it to the heady heights of the edge of the West Ham area his jinking feet made an instant impact, creating the chance for Sonny that was ruled out.

As the game became rather more stretched in the second half he became more prominent, able to indulge his partiality for embarking on a gentle gallop with ball at feet. One suspects he will be a pretty significant presence within the Mourinho vintage.

4. Ndombele – Persona Non Grata

There were other, low-key points of note – Sissoko became more dominant as the game progressed, Aurier not for the first time seemed rather to enjoy life without all that defensive nonsense burdening him – but one of the more significant developments of the evening was the conspicuous absence of a certain member of the troupe.

What future for Tanguy Ndombele in lilywhite? Fit enough for the elongated bench, but presumably not rated highly enough even for a late cameo to add some protection to midfield (young Master Winks instead thrown on for the final few minutes, to play the role of burly doorman), a betting man would presumably steer well clear of any wager on Ndombele to be the fulcrum around which the team is built.

Much was made pre-lockdown of Ndombele’s rather alarming lack of puff, and the young bean’s training regime during lockdown received similarly hefty coverage. As such, I suspect I was not the only one eagerly awaiting the sight of him emerging trim and buoyant, newly entrusted by Jose to turn defence into attack.

The reality appears vastly at odds with this scenario. The shape of the things in the immediate future appears to include the move of Dier back into defence, Sissoko and Winks as the more trusted deep-lying sorts, and Lo Celso pulling strings for the headline-seekers in attack – with Ndombele left to socially distance in the stands.

With games coming thick and fast in coming weeks one would expect that he’ll be beckoned to the fore at some point, but if the first two games are indicators of how Jose sees the world – and there’s every reason to interpret them as such – then this new normal does not appear to include Ndombele.

Spurs 1-1 Man Utd: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. The Negative Mentality

Good heavens this ghastly dirge is too much to stomach. One understands that there’s a time and a place for the gung-ho “If you score four we’ll just biff up the pitch and score five” approach, but this new normal – of low possession, sitting deep and simply attempting to soak up pressure from first whistle to last – is laying it on a bit thick.

One presumes that once Bill Nick and Danny Blanchflower made it past the pearly gates they got stuck into the entertainment on offer and had a whale of a time, not bothering to check back over their shoulders to monitor goings-on at N17 – but if they did happen to glance back one can only imagine how unrecognisable this rot might appear to them.

“The game is about glory, it is about doing things in style and with a flourish, about going out and beating the other lot, not waiting for them to die of boredom.”

The aforementioned memo evidently did not make it to the Mourinho inbox. Instead we’re stuck with this dreadful imitation of Sven’s England, persisting with the ludicrous notion that football is a game best played by allowing the opposition to have the ball for as long as they please, of all absurd notions, providing that there are enough last-ditch limbs around to prevent them from scoring.

Any display of attacking intent was strictly an afterthought – and the longer the game wore on the more unlikely these became anyway, for even when we tried to pass our way forward rather than blasting it into orbit, we simply did not have enough troops stationed in attack, every man and his dog having been dragged back into the final third for defensive drills ad infinitum.

A point from yesterday’s game was certainly a good result, but if this is to be the go-to approach – and it is – frankly I would rather we had lost while playing with more ambition.

No doubt we will nick the odd game by the skin of teeth and against the run of play – witness the home win vs Man City pre-lockdown – but, without wanting to sound too dramatic, this business of simply surrendering possession and inviting the other lot to have a go for 90 straight minutes saps the will to live.

2. Kane Fitness

It came as little surprise to note that Harry Kane barely registered his presence throughout proceedings, given that the young nib typically needs half a dozen games to build up a head of steam.

On the rare occasions the ball sailed through his sphere of influence he duly trotted out his impression of one trudging through quicksand, all notions of him bursting into a blur of acceleration kept well under lock and key.

Not that I’m criticising the chap particularly, for he was hardly the only one who seemed taken by surprise by the fact that an actual game of football was happening around him, but I think we had all sneakily hoped that having recovered from injury Kane might already have been in peak condition and straining at the leash.

His lack of match sharpness should, in theory, present a conundrum of sorts, as the only way in which he can attain the aforementioned MS is by obediently trotting out one game after another, which is far from ideal when the engine is yet to rev up. However, in practice it’s no conundrum at all, as omitting this particular slab of meat is clearly not an option.

3. Everyone Else’s Fitness

As mentioned, Kane was not the only soul who seemed not to be up with current affairs.

The dashing, breezy Sonny of yesteryear was replaced by a sullen twin. While seeming to give brief consideration to forward bursts whenever he received the ball, after a short conflab of the voices in his head he appeared repeatedly to conclude that discretion beat valour hands down each time, and Walking Football was the order of the day.

Winks and Sissoko seemed similarly invisible for much of the evening, which I suppose had much to do with the fact that, rather than being in possession of the ball, they spent most of the game dutifully chasing the shadows of United players as they pinged the thing one way and another. Both intermittently flitted into view, in the manner of one who, when working from home, sends an occasional calculated email to remind The Boss of their existence, but in general each was a model nonentity, and seemed perfectly content with the label.

4. Lamela

Young Lamela occasionally caught the eye by virtue of being marginally less average than the rest of the mob, at least in intent, if not end-product.

It is generally a pretty reliable bet that he will be cautioned within fifteen minutes of entering the fray, and while he avoided that fate yesterday this was as much due to the random goodwill of the chief arbiter of proceedings, rather than any restraint on Lamela’s part. He seems always to scoot around with the air of one who has been wronged and is therefore determined to have a petulant kick at anyone who wafts into his vicinity.

This is mildly preferable to the meek and mild approach of far too many in lilywhite over the years, for it at least suggests that he cares a jot or two, so I rather welcomed the sight of his pointless snaps and nibbles yesterday.

Generally however, it was all to little avail. When his energy gave him the opportunity to affect the game in a more productive way, he repeatedly failed to deliver the right ball, and one wondered if the technical bods had at their fingertips the sound effects of the White Hart Lane groan.

Lamela would do well to take a leaf out of the Bergwijn book of end products – but one suspects he will have to do so pretty swiftly, for it can only be a matter of time before Our Glorious Leader beats the attacking vim and verve out of Bergwijn, and has him gloomily ceding possession and backing off into a defensive template like everyone else.

5. Son’s Corners

But on a pleasing note, Son’s corners are a dashed sight better than the bizarrely inept dross that Christian Eriksen used to purvey, Son’s having the distinct virtue of reaching beyond the body-parts of the nearest defender. So maybe there is hope in this brave new world after all. Huzzah!

Spurs – Man Utd Preview: 4 Tottenham Talking Points

And so it begins again – and in truth receiving a pretty frosty reception in this part of town.

Given our form, injuries and the general way of all things lilywhite pre-apocalypse, I had greeted the abrupt end to proceedings with secret relief, and was all for the expunging of records. “Restore the end-18/19 standings,” was the anthem resounding at AANP Towers, “And if the managerial changes can also be undone, so much the better.”

Alas, such reasonable requests have been ignored. Joseball will be making our eyes bleed again quicker than we can ask “Is a tactic of 35% possession at home and looking to nick something in the final ten really the best way to go about things?”

1. Jose’s Tactics

The Ben Davies Gambit, unveiled to considerable success in Jose’s first game (of 4 at the back when defending and 3 when attacking, resulting in joyous attacking overloads and Good Dele) has proved a hoax. Jose’s true intentions all along appear to have been to retreat 20 years into our own half straight from kick off, and, broadly, hope for the best.

While one sucks up this rot when it’s an injury-hit Champions League night vs Leipzig, the whole routine is rather heavy going when it’s at home to Norwich or some such dross on the lower rungs.

Now admittedly the chap took on a tough gig. CL Finalists we might have been in name, but the mob he inherited needed more than just a lick of paint to get rediscover the old swagger. Key players were past their peak; those who weren’t had been flogged into the ground over the last few seasons; and there was an odd lop-sidedness to the whole mechanism.

So not necessarily the sort of vehicle one would proudly parade in front of envious neighbours – but neither was it the sort of decrepit cast of vagrants and amateurs fit only for ceding possession and playing on the counter-attack. Just about every young bean on the payroll was an international, capable of attracting admiring glances from CL Teams if subjected to the ‘Who Would Buy Them?’ test. Clueless, pootling mid-tablers they were not.

However, Jose has now had a few weeks to mould this lot to his foul preferences. While not exactly a bona fide pre-season it’s probably been the next been thing, so while it is probably a bit much to expect some sort of all-singing, all-dancing, feast of whirring goodness, at the very least one would hope for some defensive solidity and a game-plan slightly more expansive than soak-it-up-and-hope.

2. Injuries No More (Almost)

I still don’t think it fully excused the unique blend of negativity and chaos that stank the place out each week, but the swathe of injuries certainly did knock the stuffing somewhat, pre-Covid.

Merrily that excuse is can now elbowed aside – well, to an extent, as it appears that the boy Lo Celso is made of biscuits and therefore not yet ready for action. This is actually one heck of an elbow to the ribs, as the young egg gave a good impression of the sort around whom a team might be built.

Young Tanganga is also tucked up in bed necking paracetamol, but better news resounds on those other beans who were last seen covered from stern to stem in bandages. Messrs Kane, Son and Sissoko are apparently now injury-free, which is a blessed relief, because without them we increasingly resembled the victims of cinematic ne’er-do-well The Predator once their spines had been ripped from them, they too ending up with a bereft and useless air.

Young Master Bergwijn has also apparently been given an approving nod by some intelligent sort with a stethoscope, which means that Our Glorious Leader will have options a-plenty when the twenty-minute mark rolls along and he decides to make five substitutions at once.

3. Kane And The Need to Hit The Ground Running

The life and works of Harry Kane are generally headline news, so all eyes will presumably be trained in his direction once he lumbers into action, and while his return from injury for these final ten games is a blessing, there is a distinct caution in the air.

For all his assets – and one generally cannot swing a cat without hitting two or three of them – he is generally not the quickest out of the blocks when first settling into things, be it at the start of a new season or on his return from an injury.

Having been bunkered away for something like six months, one fears that it might take him several games to build a full head of steam, and with the games coming thick and fast we rather need him to dispense with the gentle warm-up and go flying straight into battle at full pelt.

Not to over-egg the point but much depends on the honest fellow, so while the empty stadium will not resound to much more than grunts and curses of those playing, you can bet that living rooms across the country will be filled with the muttered prayers of the long-suffering, willing the chap to hit peak form and pronto.

4. An Improved (And Fit) Ndombele?

In theory I suppose one might hone in every member of the squad and wonder what sort of player they will be when emerging back onto the greenery, but Ndombele will make for a particularly fascinating case-study.

Having been feted as up there alongside sliced bread and the wheel when first unveiled, and even now boasting a highlights reel that makes him look pretty unplayable, a full, unedited 90 minutes makes for a slightly more underwhelming spectacle.

One doesn’t like to poke fun, but the lad did seem rather to struggle with the pace of things here in sunny north London, to the extent that it appeared necessary to ration him to one single, solitary sprint per match, after which he could do little more than stagger around the centre circle in exhaustion.

The whispers from on high suggest that improving Ndombele’s fitness became something of a personal crusade for Jose during lockdown. If it bore fruit it will have been time well spent, because one imagines that a fit and active Ndombele could be a thing of beauty, and one heck of an asset to his nearby chums. The fear, of course, is that his allergy to stamina will live with him from cradle to grave, so one holds the breath and rattles off a few more of those living-room prayers.

All told, there is a nameless dread filling the air at AANP Towers, in case you hadn’t picked up as much already. And yet, beneath it all, there lurks that tiny sliver of hope – that actually, we’re still within social distance of the CL places; that the injury crisis is over; that Jose has drilled some tactical sense into even those stupid enough to post pictures of themselves on social media breaking lockdown; that these remaining games might even be a moderate success, and we might yet make the Champions League.

Burnley 1-1 Spurs: Six Tottenham Talking Points

I hesitate to say it goes from bad to worse, because we went into this one on the back of a home defeat to relegation fodder after which one of our number waded in to throttle a ‘fan’. So strictly speaking this was a marked improvement, given that no defeat was recorded and relationships between players and fans appeared to be in perfect harmony.

Nevertheless, it does not require particularly forensic analysis to identify that this was again pretty limp stuff.

1. Ndombele (And Jose’s Treatment Of The Chap)

As is often the case, Our Glorious Leader appeared to have given more thought to his post-match narrative than to righting the multiple wrongs on the pitch, with few left in doubt about the identify of the latest scapegoat de jour.

Monsieur Ndombele was the unlucky punter, suffering the twin ignominies of being hooked at half-time and then given both barrels by Jose at the press conference.

One understands the frustration. When we bought the young egg last summer the trailers advertised a pretty dominating sort, capable of muscling his way onto the ball, weaving past all-comers and then splitting defences as if shelling peas.

And rather gallingly, the evidence has actually hinted that the young man’s locker does indeed contain all of the aforementioned. It’s all just packed away so tightly that he seems to require special dispensation to access it, if you get my drift.

Each appearance will feature a few choice flashes of his talents, as if to tease seasoned watchers into thinking the reincarnation of Mousa Dembele walks amongst us, but it all occurs in such fitful manner that invariably we depart murmuring frustrations at his inability to produce his act on something close to a 24-7 basis.

Yesterday was a particularly egregious example. Ndombele was sound if unspectacular in his passing, and on a couple of occasions attempted that neat trick of wriggling out of pretty confined spaces, but in the area of busting a gut to win possession from the Burnley midfield he was notably absent, and his removal from proceedings, if maybe a tad extreme, was certainly understandable.

The chap’s fitness – or lack thereof – continues to startle, a good six months after he joined, but then these millionaire professional athletes will move in mysterious ways their wonders to perform. And a distinctive feature of the mysterious way in which Ndombele moves is that it all happens at approximately half the speed of the average footballer, and ends with him panting as if upon death’s door, which contributes in no small amount to opposing midfielders cantering away from him at will.

Here at AANP Towers we’re not entirely convinced that Jose’s repeated public castigation of the chap is quite the optimal way to manage him – but one might argue firstly that Jose has a dashed sight more experience in such matters than I; and secondly that it really doesn’t matter what I think because my influence in Jose’s behavioural choices appears strangely limited.

2. Skipp

So while Ndombele was being pelted with rotten fruit, his midfield partner of the first half walked away with not a blemish on his record.

I cannot profess to having ever been particularly awestruck by the performances of young O. Skipp Esquire. “Earnest and Nervous” about sums him up in my book, a chap who might consider himself a tad fortunate to be in the first team squad – and conducts himself as if he thinks along identical lines.

I actually thought that his midweek jolly against Norwich was one of his finest in lilywhite. Admittedly the competition in this department is hardly stiff, but we needed a midfielder who might put in a tackle or two and he did his best to oblige (albeit not to the extent that it stopped Norwich looking pretty comfortable in possession against us – a statement that pretty much sums up the state of things). On top of which Skipp is hardly one of life’s great risk-takers when it comes to demanding or using possession, striking me as more Harry Winks than Harry Winks himself.

That was against Norwich; yesterday against Burnley he seemed barely to be involved. In his defence two hours of energy exerted midweek presumably took its toll, on top of which his midfield partner, as mentioned above, was himself hardly a bundle of energy. However, Skipp’s presence yesterday appeared to be for little more than decorative value.

If this were his chance to cement a spot in the team, I suspect his argument might well be that he wasn’t actually there, and few who witnessed proceedings would be able to recall evidence to the contrary.

Jose, however, was having none of it, and exonerated the young pup of all blame. One awaits with curiosity to see whether actions match these words when it comes to future selections.

3. Dele Alli Upfront

An administrative error in each of the last umpteen transfer windows having left us short of a legally qualified striker, and Lucas Moura having been run into the ground in recent weeks, Dele Alli was the poor sap square-pegged into service atop the formation yesterday, and it was hard not to feel for him.

He went about it gamely enough, reasoning that, irrespective of his nominal position he was still Dele Alli and must therefore try to backheel and nutmeg his way through proceedings, and was only a heartbeat away from doing so to goalscoring effect as early as the first minute.

In general however he was limited by simply not having been on the roster when Mother Nature was carving out strikers. Service hardly overflowed, but whenever my best mate Jan did whip in a cross, Dele’s approach to life betrayed that of a man more accustomed to making a late burst into the box rather than being the focal point of attack.

He, Lamela and Bergwijn did their best to one-two their way to glory, but it was all rather narrow and intricate, and in the first half at least, Burnley were not unduly threatened.

4. Second Half Improvement

Mercifully things improved after half-time. Whether this was due to the change in personnel or formation is debatable, and convincing cases could be made for both lines of argument.

The switch to a back four meant that our midfield population increased significantly; the presence of Lo Celso brought a hitherto unseen creative spark.

I dare not ask Eric Dier what he made of being shunted from centre-back to defensive midfield, but he made a good enough fist of it that young Skipp might have been advised to take a shorthand note or two; and if Lucas were aggrieved that his evening off had been rudely interrupted he did not show it, and in fact gave a convincing impression of a domestic dog being allowed a bonus run in the park, bounding around with energy and to pretty decent effect.

In short however, all that was good tended to emanate from Lo Celso, and the others simply followed his lead. The equaliser, on balance, was deserved, and it was just a shame that some encouraging second half attacks did not bear the fruit that seemed possible.

5. Sanchez – Something Of A Shocker

For fairly understandable reasons Our Glorious Leader began with a back three, and indeed a total of five centre backs across the width of the pitch, which rather telegraphed his expectation that we were in for an aerial joust.

One understood the logic, but unfortunately Davinson Sanchez seemed to have identified 7 March 2020 to be as good a date as any other to peddle the very worst he had to offer.

In recent weeks I have actually identified the chap as one of the brighter performers, but yesterday’s was a pretty wild deviation from this contemporary history.

His inability to judge a flighted cross seems ingrained into his DNA, so these moments, while unwelcome, at least did not surprise. However, seeing him outmuscled, dispossessed and tripping over his own feet was as unpleasant as it was unexpected, and although lines of communication generally appeared to have been cut between him and the rest of the defence, Messrs Alderweireld, Dier and Tanganga were at least sufficiently savvy to come flying in with last-ditch interceptions that maintained a level of decency.

6. Random Right-Wing Serge Aurier

With the game in the balance in the final stages, and substitute options limited, Jose stuck out his tongue at all those critics who accuse him of being out of touch with the modern game by not just thinking outside the box but removing himself from the box completely and throwing into the recycling bin, with the introduction of Serge Aurier into a right-wing role.

There is a precedent of sorts in lilywhite, as I recall Danny Rose having occasionally been stationed ahead of, say, Ben Davies, out on the left-wing, but nevertheless I would not be deceiving my public to say that the sight of Aurier galloping into position ahead of Tanganga left me momentarily stunned.

In theory however, such a move made a lot of sense. As we are all now well aware, Aurier’s impeccable sense of calamity makes him quite the liability at right-back; whereas if his compass points north he offers a handy attacking threat, being one of the better purveyors of whipped crosses on the market. Stationing him in a right-wing role for twenty minutes therefore removes the Con while retaining the Pro, so to speak.

And in practice too, as it happened, the move had much to recommend it. Lucas shuffled off into the centre, and Aurier seemed eager to get stuck in, offering decent link-up play, decent pace and one or two of those crosses.

One idly speculates what went through Gedson’s mind as all this unfolded, but the cameo was certainly innovative, and, in a way that unfortunately rather sums up how far we have sunk, was probably one of the highlights of the evening.

Calling Spurs fans from the ‘60s – I’d love you to contribute to my latest book on Tottenham fans’ favourite players. Just leave a comment below, drop me a line at aanp1999@gmail.com, or tweet @aanp_spurs

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