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Spurs 1-3 Man Utd: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Bad, But Marginally Less Bad Than We’re Used To

It’s a sign of things, and a pretty damning sign at that, when progress is being measured by how less disastrous the situation now is compared to previous times, but that’s about the rub of it here at AANP Towers.

Once upon a time – by which I mean just about every game – I would use these pages to wail and lament like a banshee having a particularly bad time of it, on the grounds that we just seemed to observe the same damn thing every damn week. Viz. that our lot would take a lead; drop deep and try soak up pressure; fail to soak up said pressure and concede; concede again dammit with five minutes remaining; and then put on an impressive, but futile attacking display in the dying embers in an attempt to claw back the lost points.

Now this week, while most of the above admittedly remains true, the crucial difference is that we did not drop deep and try to soak up the pressure.

As I result, I got to about the eightieth minute or so of this one feeling less of the usual weekly frustration and ire. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised by the whole thing. Seeing our lot churn out something not particularly good, but not quite as bad as usual, felt if not exactly uplifting then at least a mite more calming than the usual tortuous fare. Yes, we were dropping points; but at least we weren’t dropping points in a manner quite as negative as usual.

(Or rather, that was the state of things until we conceded the second, at which point I expected our usual punchy, late attempt to salvage something, but this was also strangely lacking. In fact, our lot seemed to settle for defeat even with ten minutes left on the clock, barely able to get a foot on the ball, let alone mount a late charge at the opposition goal. All of which rather soured my mood of previous calm.)

However – and I refer you back to the opening gambit, above – when progress is being measured by things being slightly less disastrous than usual you know you’re in a bit of a spot.

I’m not quite sure what the plan was, it being neither to play on the front foot nor the counter-attacking back foot. We had our moments, but United generally had more of them. I noted to a chum pre-match that I would prefer seeing us go down in flames as in the 5-4 defeat at Everton then meekly limp to the usual 1-1 draws each week; but this felt like neither. The whole thing was a bit odd and uninspiring; and that was even before we conceded two late goals.

2. Hojbjerg

One definite ray of sunshine was the pitter-patter of Hojbjerg’s size nines around the place. Since the turn of the year he’s occasionally dipped below his usual high standards, but today signalled a return to something like peak Hojbjerg (possibly benefiting from a rare midweek rest?).

If there were a playground-style, thrashing tackle to be made, he merrily stomped in and made it. If there were an opportunity to nip in quickly and win back possession only recently surrendered, he did not wait for the Ts and Cs of the deal to be refined.

At one point in the second half he broke up a potential United counter-attack and appeared for all the world to be appealing for some non-existent crusade; until I realised that he was actually bellowing a celebration at having conceded a throw in the cause of stifling a United move at source.

Not much else in lilywhite clicked today, but Hojbjerg’s performance was impressive.

3. Lucas

Scraping the barrel now admittedly, but Lucas showed a few flashes of creativity, when not being bumped from the number ten spot by Lo Celso.

The chap always brims with pretty honest sweat and endeavour, which is decent of him but of itself not exactly blowing up anyone’s skirts. Where Lucas does add value, however, is in picking up the ball just over halfway and jinking away from scything legs, transferring the action from what might be termed Midfield Stodge to what might equally be termed Final Third Potential.

As with Lamela a month or so ago, he seems to be benefitting from a steady run of starts, and while hardly in the same bracket as Kane and Sonny, he does at least provide decent empirical evidence for his position ahead of Bale in the queue for the coveted role of Fun Uncle.

A smart assist for Sonny’s goal today too; and in fact most of those involved in its genesis (Ndombele, Lo Celso and, to a lesser extent, Kane) attracted commendation. Seeing goals like that equally delights (because lovely goals do make the heart leap, what?) and infuriates (because why the devil can’t we peddle such stuff more often?).

4. The Defence

Given the personnel at his disposal, I’m not sure that Jose could unveil any back-four without inducing a groan from these parts, so when the names Aurier and Dier were rattled off I suspect I wasn’t the only one praying for their guardian angels to be on high alert.

As it happened though, and in another indication of that first point in today’s sermon about progress being measured by a reduction in dreadfulness, the back-four were generally not terrible.

Neither United’s disallowed goal nor their first two legitimate goals were necessarily due to the type of schoolboy defending that has graced the turf a little too often in the last few years (I’ll overlook the third as it stemmed from several of our lot being dragged out of position). United’s movement of the ball for these goals was impressive, and I suspect a neutral might have dished out some polite applause. There was not, on first sight at least, a great deal that might have been done about them.

First sight, however, may have been a little generous.

Eric Dier has few obvious attributes upon which to call, but generally fares better in the more static life that accompanies crosses or passes into the box than the sprint-based existence of chasing from halfway. However, both United’s first two and their disallowed goal were fashioned in and around the penalty area, and for both Cavani’s allowed and disallowed goal Dier simply lost track of the striker.

This is not to suggest that I might have done any better; if one is supposed to walk a mile in a man’s shoes before chipping away at his character I’d be an unholy mess at this point. But that’s not really the point, is it? Dier is supposed to be an international defender, and while Cavani is a master at his art, Dier was not just a yard behind him, he was completely ignorant of his whereabouts.

Aurier, inevitably, dozed off for one of the goals (their second, allowing Cavani to breeze past him unbothered); while young Rodon switched off for the equaliser, when he ought to have been first on the scene after Lloris parried away the initial shot.

So there were some pretty preventable errors scattered about the place for the goals, but nevertheless, this did not seem a game in which to lambast those at the back. By and large they did a presentable job of things, and while Dier may not be the most alert soul on the planet, Rodon at least seemed to know his beans.

Who the hell knows which combo Jose will try next, given that his selection method seems to be to close his eyes and pick names out of a hat, but there would seem to be both immediate and at least medium-term benefit in giving persisting with young Joe Rodon.

Newcastle 2-2 Spurs: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. Intensity: Only To Be Shown When We Fall Behind

Now don’t get me wrong, one need not be one of those intellectual sorts clothed in lab coats and spewing out formulae to be able to pop a positive spin on this one. There was decent attacking interplay; we created a solid fistful of pretty reasonable chances in front of goal; Lucas continues to look a game number 10, Sonny is back and Ndombele picked a couple of those natty slide-rule passes of which Luka Modric would be proud.

But if you are anything like AANP then you dismiss these so-called silver linings as rot, and your face is as thunder. One might argue that we fared reasonably, and that two goals and a point on the road represents a commendable effort: but don’t be fooled. Newcastle, every time we play them, for all their willing are blisteringly average and we should have been perfectly capable of tearing them to pieces.

Even allowing for the fact that our defence is so incapable of getting their little heads around the most basic precepts of the game that they are basically worth two goals to the opposition every match, we still ought to have made mincemeat of Newcastle. And lest you be in the slightest doubt about this, pray cast your gaze upon Exhibit A, the Tottenham Starting Eleven; and Exhibit B, the five minutes or so after we fell behind.

That starting eleven (Exhibit A, that’s for those who, much like Davinson Sanchez, are struggling to keep up with things going on around them) had enough talent to have one hand tied behind their backs, play in blindfolds and only use their weaker foot, and still be pretty evenly matched with a team as devastatingly mediocre as Newcastle. Alas, our heroes seemed determined to take this challenge literally, and set about the thing as if deliberately doing so at half-pace, just to ensure an even contest.

With Jose seemingly giving instruction that the mega-cautious approach of two holding midfielders was to be torn to shreds for one night only, we were even treated to the most becoming sight of an attacking midfield packed with the delights of Ndombele, Lo Celso, Lucas and Kane, with Reguilon eager not to miss out on the left.

It ought to have had the makings of a mauling. Any two of those alone, in combination, could probably have given Newcastle the run around if sufficiently motivated.

And, as per Exhibit B, once the indignity had been suffered of going behind, the pistons started pumping and all concerned treated us to five minutes or so of their collective A-game, all forward passes between the lines and movement in between defenders. Two goals duly followed lickety-split, and those manning the floodgates sounded due warning that all hell was about to break loose.

And then, dash it all, the half-time gong sounded, our heroes paused long enough to realise that they were actually ahead and all need for intensity vanished as swiftly as it had arrived.

Sure, we made the occasional second half dart, and could pretty easily have increased the lead on the strength of those chances alone; but any manic intensity that would have strangled the life out of Newcastle – and of which the personnel were perfectly capable – was gone.

Put simply, had they approached the second half with that same, aggrieved determination as they had approached the five minutes after conceding the opener, we would have witnessed a rout.

Instead, and for apparently the eighth time this season (Eighth! Egads!), we have thrown away points by conceding in the final ten minutes of the season. (I pause at this juncture, for a stiff, Sunday afternoon cordial, to give the necessary strength.)

2. Sanchez

I have a feeling that in each of the most recent half-dozen or so games, I have featured prominently in my post-match ruminations the doings (and, typically, misadventures) of Davinson Sanchez.

If the repetition is grating, then I can only beg your pardon; but let’s face it, the wretched blighter hardly helps himself.

He gave early signal of his intention this afternoon, with a second-minute header into the lap of a Newcastle forward who was still catching breath from him pre-game warm-up, and while that chance was duly wasted (this, after all, is modern-day Newcastle), young Master Sanchez evidently considered that he had found the appropriate level for his afternoon’s work.

Thereafter, seasoned players of Davinson Sanchez Bingo were in for an Easter Sunday treat, as the young blister treated us to his just about his entire array of ignominy, from countless wayward passes to a couple of mistimed leaps, culminating in not one but two tours de force: the clearance (I use the term loosely) that presented Newcastle with the opportunity for their opening goal; and the decision to clatter with his whole body into the nearest chum while attempting to defend (I again use the term loosely) the cross that brought their second goal.

(Although on the subject of the second goal, a dozen lashes each across the backs of Messrs Lamela and Lo Celso for casually and criminally slowing to a halt as the Newcastle attack germinated, and allowing Willock to run beyond them, unmanned, to slap home the goal. Eminently avoidable stuff, and quite possibly indicative of a broader attitudinal issue.)

But back to the lamentable Sanchez, before he thinks he has escaped admonishment. One can only assume that the blighter plays like some sort of holy amalgamation of Ledley King and peak Jaap Stam in training, because little he does on the pitch suggests that here strides a Champions League-level defender.

3. Rodon and Tanganga

Blessed with Sanchez alongside him for company I did wonder what despicable acts Joe Rodon must have committed in a former life to earn the privilege. I must admit that the morbid fascination with Sanchez meant that I did not necessarily pay due attention to the beaverings of young Rodon alongside him, and it generally became a little difficult to match the blame for our numerous defensive mishaps to the appropriate defender.

Rodon gives the impression of one with whom it is worth persisting, on the basis of some well-judged interventions. Whether or not he is an organiser of things, a quality in which we are in desperate need, is an unanswered question at present, but I thought he emerged with some credit.

And t’other side of the lamentable Sanchez, young Tanganga probably reserved his finest moments for the front-foot. When called to defend, not for the first time in his fledgling career his decisions seemed a little too heavily influenced by some positional naivety, not least in being sucked infield to help out Sanchez, and leaving in the lap of the gods those activities in operation behind him.

With Toby’s use-by date just about upon us, and Dier operating at precisely 0.5 times the speed of every other professional in the game, the grim conclusion is that we are pretty desperately need of at least one prime centre-back to slot straight into the starting line-up and liven the dickens out of the rest of the defensive mob.

4. Kane

Mercifully, when all about are losing their heads – and, more pertinently, their slim leads in the final five minutes – one can always seek (and find) solace in the quite astonishing outputs of Harry Kane.

For a player at pretty much the opposite end of the Natural Talent Spectrum to the game’s true greats, the quality he delivers game after game is absolutely unreal. His first goal was hardly a lesson in the finer arts, but as exemplars for persistence, presence and a striker’s instinct to gamble it was something from which young Master Vinicius might have taken copious notes, Vinicus being one found a little too often rocking casually on his heels for my liking.

Kane’s second, however, was an absolute dream, contact so sweet one wanted to football’s governing bodies to compose for it one of those special anthems they insist on blaring out as the players line up for every game.

For Kane to be top-scorer in the league, and near enough top assist-provider, within a team that is as inclined to defend their own penalty area as to attack the opposition’s, makes the man a pretty strong contender for player of the season (particularly given the fact that the success of the runaway leaders is not really due to the stand-out efforts of any particular individual).

All of which still does Kane a disservice, because to judge the honest fellow purely on the basis of his goals and assists is to ignore most of what he does in a game. Even the chances he misses are ripe for study, given the manner in which he so frequently shifts the ball between his feet and then lashes a shot that nutmegs the defender and leaves the ‘keeper rooted to the spot (note today’s effort that hit the post).

On top of all of which, the chap has even taken to modelling his looks upon AANP’s lockdown, swept-back, no-longer-giving-a-damn haircut. A most becoming choice, if I may so.

5. The Awkward Subject of Kane’s Free-Kicks

If there is one, gaping in flaw in Kane’s DNA it is his comically bad free-kick taking ability. I have a feeling that one of, if not his very first league goal for us, might have been a free-kick, but an equally strong suspicion that it was deflected (which would make a heck of a lot of sense, because nature’s elements alone will not divert the ball from its wild trajectories towards goal).

Now it seems that on the basis of this one, freakishly fortunate, close-your-eyes-and-thwack effort half a decade ago – albeit probably in conjunction with his standing as the greatest striker of his generation – Kane’s general ineptitude when presented with ball, wall and twenty yards is no impediment. His teammates simply present him with the ball and sidle off to their positions in preparation for the coming goal-kick.

It is quite the oddity for one so plainly dedicated to every element of his craft, but his abilities seem to drain from him as he soon as he spots the ball from twenty-plus yards – to the extent that the greatest PR agency in the world would struggle to sell Kane on free-kick duty, unless the aim of the exercise is the bloot the thing into the wall, into the orbit or into any other vacant space not occupied by the goal webbing.

That aside however, the lad is worth his weight in the 24-carat stuff, and we should cherish his every contribution.

The occasional AANP tweet to be found hither

Arsenal 2-1 Spurs: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. The Most Lamela Performance Imaginable

If you want to describe the mood at AANP Towers as “sombre” that will be fine with me, because that was pretty rotten stuff. Since the final whistle I have mostly just aimlessly wandered about the place: not as a devastatingly accurate tribute to those in lilywhite today, but because there was precious little about which to cheer.

Not for the first time in recent weeks, pretty much the sole beacon of light amidst this gloom was – or at least, was until he wasn’t – Erik Lamela.

Quite unperturbed by his rather hurried introduction into affairs, Lamela just set about the game as I imagine he sets about dressing himself in the morning, or eating his breakfast: viz. with high energy, sneaky fouls and a total reliance on his left foot.

It would be a stretch, and in fact a plain untruth, to say that he brimmed with creativity, but as ever he seemed pretty keen to engage in robust exchanges of views with just about anyone clad in red who wandered anywhere near him.

The highlight, of course, was his goal. Has any mortal ever held his right foot in such disregard as Lamela? Not that I’m complaining of course, because I suspect most of us would happily retire after scoring a goal like that, in a game like this (and for added delectation the shot also nutmegged some lost soul en route to goal). For a while it seemed that Lamela had done the most Lamela thing imaginable.

Except, alas, there was more classic Lamela to come. Any game of Lamela Bingo requires a yellow card borne of a fully determined but slightly mistimed tackle, and being the excitable sort of fellow he is, this duly followed. However, on this matter I have a healthy dollop of sympathy for the man, because the sequence of events that earned that first yellow card involved, in chronological order, i) Lamela winning ball, and ii) Lamela flying into opponent.

One might argue that this is simply the manner in which games are officiated these days, and that would be a pretty irresistible point; but in the latter stages I’m pretty sure Xhaka went flying into a challenge on Doherty, taking first ball and then clattering man, and earning nothing more than an unconcerned shrug from those in authority. Scandalous stuff.

Frankly I thought Lamela’s second yellow was also rather soft. Not the wisest course of action from a man already cautioned, ‘tis true, but the supposedly flailing arm could pretty reasonably have been construed as a fairly harmless attempt push away the chest of his opponent. Spilt milk now, of course.

And thus we had every aspect of Lamela, in an hour-long microcosm.

2. Doherty and Bale

Lamela’s goal, and Lucas’ diligent beavering in the final fifteen, were about as uplifting as things got.

Just about everywhere else on the pitch there seemed to be a pretty hefty dereliction of duty, as all involved misplaced passes (Hojbjerg being oddly culpable on multiple occasions), wandered into dead-ends or generally turned in curiously lethargic performances, as if the current state of affairs in the world were weighing on their minds a little too heavily today.

In the first half in particular, much of the success had by the other lot came down our right. I had neither the energy nor inclination to try to diagnose the problem, but the quartet of lilywhites covering that patch of land (Doherty, Bale, Hojbjerg and Sanchez) between them seemed pretty ill-equipped even to understand what was happening around them, let alone address it.

Doherty in particular gave the impression of a defender on life-support, repeatedly outfoxed by his opponents’ mind-blowing tactic of kicking the ball past him and running. The excuse repeatedly trotted out for this pest is that he is a wing-back, not a full-back, as if this is akin to asking a right-handed fast bowler to design a spaceship, and not something that should be expected of him. Utter rot.

In my calmer moments I actually consider that Doherty is someone who has shown enough in recent seasons to suggest that he will, if still around next campaign, eventually come good. Today, however, he was a shambles, whether in possession or trying to defend.

(Bale, it seemed, took one look at the car crash unfolding behind him and decided to steer well clear. One understands the sentiment, I suppose, but it’s hardly mucking in with the boys.)

3. Sanchez

Another week, and another blot on the Davinson Sanchez escutcheon. Apparently some are arguing that the penalty should not have been awarded; and by the letter of the law perhaps it should not, I did not stick around for the debate. My misgiving about the whole incident was that Sanchez saw fit to clatter into an opponent in the penalty area. Irrespective of what other events were unfolding, that course of action stacked the odds against him. Pull off a stunt like that and immediately the ref has a reason to take action.

It was actually something of a shame, because while Sanchez never has and never will inspire me with the slightest confidence, he was somehow getting things right. Blocks, headers, timing of challenges: all the parts of his game that have me covering my eyes with hands and muttering fevered prayers, in these this afternoon he seemed to emerge triumphant.

But such is the lot of a centre-back. I’m not sure it does much good to turn in an impeccable 89 minutes, if you fill your remaining 60 seconds flattening opposing attackers in the penalty area.

4. Negative Approach

I have no idea who gives the orders to our lot as they limber up, as I am scandalously excluded from the inner sanctum of the club at such times, but after games like these the anthem on my lips is, “Accident, or design?”

That is to say, is it simply an unhappy stroke of fate that our lot mooch gormlessly around the pitch for an hour showing minimal intent to break forward (until they eventually, inevitably, concede and have to)? Or do they conduct themselves with such apathy because someone in the upper echelons has force-fed them the instruction to act in precisely such manner?

All neither here nor there of course. It wouldn’t make much difference if the instructions were being delivered by a booming voice from the clouds, as the net effect is one we have witnessed pretty regularly. We defend, and defend, and only bother attacking once behind.

While at least avoiding the ignominy of defending along the edge of our own area, our heroes did not cover themselves in glory for the first hour or so, by seeming oddly indifferent as to whether or not they had the ball. Whereas the other lot gave the impression of familiarity with the equation that the scoring of goals facilitates the winning of games, those in lilywhite appeared pretty relaxed about the flow of events. “If Arsenal want to attack”, went the thought process of our eleven, “then who are we to interfere?”

That our only shot in the first half brought about a goal seemed to be taken as vindication by those involved that all was well with the world. However, the fact that the other lot twice hit the woodwork during this period, rather than jolting anyone into alternative action, was seemingly taken as further evidence that everything was under control, and even after they equalised the plan remained unmoved: just bob gently about the place, and everything will be alright in the end.

That it took the unholy combination of falling behind and having a man sent off to prompt any change of approach was about as frustrating as these things get, not least because thereafter came the astonishing discovery that if we went and attacked our chances of scoring improved exponentially.

One is tempted to suggest that there is a salutary lesson in there, but it would be a stretch to assume that the combined brain power of those strolling the corridors of power will do anything to change this approach in the next big game we play.

Fulham 0-1 Spurs: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. The Front Four

Not sure how well versed you are on your scripture, but as I recall there’s one wheeze in The Good Book along the lines of Character A bumping into Character B, who – and this is crucial to the plotline – happens to be pregnant, with the punchline that on seeing Character A, it is reported by Character B that “the child in her womb leapt for joy”.

A pretty rummy line, and not something I can personally relate to, having, for various reasons, not experienced a child or indeed a womb myself – but had I been so blessed it is absolutely nailed on that the child would not just have leapt but would have performed an Irish jig at seeing the teamsheet yesterday. The universal reaction amongst all lilywhites of my acquaintance on learning of the starting eleven was one of barely containable excitement, as the star-studded quartet of Kane, Son, Bale and Dele was unleashed.

That said, the gratification was not quite instant, with Fulham inconsiderately deciding to start on the front foot for the first 10 minutes or so, and our lot revealing a pretty sizeable disconnect between defence and attack. However, when things did click it was pretty fruity stuff, and the fact that Fulham were still waltzing into our area a little too easily when in possession simply added to the feel that this whole thing was an Ossie Ardiles ’94 tribute act.

It will be interesting to see how stronger teams cope, but when our front four did purr last night there wasn’t a great deal Fulham could do to stop it. In time one would imagine that their interplay will improve, if the telepathy between Sonny and Kane extends to the other two; and, being an indulgent sort, I’d rather like to see the various band members interchange positions and go a-wandering.

As it was, Sonny obediently stayed out on the left, presumably because Bale had announced that he intended to stick to the right, with Kane varying his longitude if not his latitude. I’m not sure of the extent of the tactical coaching this mob received, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Jose simply told them to toddle out there and do as they please, relying on their individual quality to do the necessary. It certainly brought about enough clear first half chances to have more than just the single goal.

In that respect Harry Kane deserves a slap on the wrist and a spell on the naughty step, as he was guilty of the sort of basic errors in front of goal that, had they been committed by Vinicius, would have had us booting him out the door and hurling a suitcase and his passport after him.

2. Dele Alli

The star of the show was probably Dele. While the headlines have been grabbed by his glaring miss that turned into an own goal by the chap next to him, the existential point he made by simply popping up in the area at that moment, with a good sense of dramatic timing, did a lot to justify his inclusion.

In a team so heavily reliant upon Son and Kane for the beginning, middle and end of its goals, Dele’s presence and natural inclinations to tiptoe forward immediately open up new routes to goal, and as such give fresh headaches to opposing defences.

On top of his attacking threat, I feel legally obliged to mention that he also knuckled down to the meat and veg of a midfielder’s role, performing such unglamorous tasks as tracking back, making tackles and helping to dab possession about the place. However, the principal benefits he brought were in the attacking spots, which does make one wonder why the hell Jose saw fit to kick him out of the squad for the first two thirds of the season, but I suppose life is full of such mysteries.

3. Ndombele

Having missed out on parity by a whisker with the last kick of the first half, Fulham decided to try the same approach in the second, with the result that we spent a full 45 minutes clinging on for dear life against a team that for all intents and purposes is from the division beneath us. From the Championship they came, and to the Championship they will return, but this did not stop them relentlessly attacking us and coming within one rulebook absurdity of equalising.

Every time our defence desperately thwacked the ball clear it came back at us, as the concept of hanging onto the thing seemingly lost on those members of the collective who were stationed further north.

The whole nerve-shredding spectacle did make me stop and wonder about the role of Ndombele in these scenarios. No matter how many times and how large the phrase “Defensive Midfielder” is stamped across his frame, it does not alter the fact that here is a chap who looks longingly at his attacking chums on the other side of the halfway line, desperately wanting to remove himself to such sunnier climes.

This seemed to be emphasised by the fact that he raced forward over halfway at every opportunity, not even really caring about the specific destination as long as he could glimpse the sight of the opposition goalposts and take a few gulps of oxygen from the Fulham half.

Which is all well and good, and is the sort of back-up act that makes the dreamy front four even more irresistible; but when he is stationed as one of two chappies sitting in front of the back four, there is something of a statutory requirement that he puts on his defensive hat and offers some protection.

Alas, he didn’t offer much in this department. If anything I noticed Dele’s defensive contributions more than his. This is not so much a criticism of Ndombele himself, more an observation that if we are going to field a stardust-sprinkled front four then we probably do require something a bit more solid behind them.

4. Davinson Sanchez

For the second successive game I was struck by the thoroughly disorienting sensation that Davinson Sanchez was, just about, doing an adequate job of keeping intruders at bay. Much though I would like to, I cannot really bring myself to describe him as a reassuring presence back there, as he does give the impression that calamity is only one opposing stepover away.

However, he stuck to his task yesterday, and by and large emerged in credit with a number of solid interventions and tackles to his name. There were a couple of moments, notably one at the very end of the first half, when it seemed that the ghost of Gundogan had returned, and threatened to leave him writhing on the floor again, but he recovered well and generally did the necessaries.

Ultimately, I thought his night was rather summed up by the disallowed goal: an agricultural clearance (which is better than no clearance at all), combined with a spot of luck, with the net result that the clean sheet remained intact.

In the final analysis it is a bit difficult to get one’s head around things: two consecutive wins is excellent stuff; albeit the opposition have been relegation strugglers; the front four could potentially light up our end to the season; yet our defence remains pretty wobbly at best. Luckily the games come so quickly these days there isn’t much time to dwell on these imponderables.

Spurs 4-0 Burnley: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. The Dream Front Three: Son and Kane

Admittedly it was six months overdue, which does take the gloss of these joyous occasions, but now that the third member of the trio is just about fully fit this could be considered the official unveiling of The Dream Front Three, and they delivered all the traditional punchlines and crowd-pleasing moments that were legally required of them.

Burnley, it must be said, were pretty accepting of their part in the spectacle, dutifully approaching their roles of Lambs Being Led To Slaughter with all the obedient passivity of a mob of extras who are fully aware that their part in the thing is purely to make the superstars look good. When the Dream Front Three needed to combine for the cameras, Burnley gave them all the space they needed; when the Dream Front Three needed to score, Burnley were at pains not to inconvenience them, at one point even subjecting each other to meaty off-the-ball challenges in order to ensure that the day’s neon-lit narrative was not disturbed.

Tougher tests will therefore await, but this was still rousing stuff.

Sonny, who appears to have adjusted his coordinates to pop up less centrally and more towards the left since the renaissance of Bale, made a welcome return to his sprightly self after a bit of a lull in recent weeks. This geographic shift perhaps lends itself to being Creator rather than Finisher, but Son appeared to have no objection to the modification of his job description, and was at the heart of many of our quicker and more penetrating routines.

Kane, for his part, looked thoroughly irked at the indignity of having seen a goal scored within two minutes against Burnley that did not feature him, and set about doing his damnedest to correct that particular clerical error at the earliest opportunity, lashing in shots until one went in; at which point he calmed down and settled back into life within the collective of The Dream Front Three.

2. The Dream Front Three: Bale

Meanwhile Bale, as threatened in recent weeks against Wolfsberger (twice) and West Ham, bobbed about the place with the swagger of a fellow who is one of the best in the business and is pretty well aware of the fact.

He does still wander along with a look of some disdain for those statistics that litter the modern game around yards run, and sprints sprinted, and jugs of breath inhaled and whatnot; but it matters not when a chap has Special Dispensation Because He Is Bale. While not exactly the tireless blur of legs that, for example, defines Sonny, peak Bale possesses a threat that can destroy teams with a couple of well-judged swings of his left tentacle. These have been in evidence in recent weeks, both in the sweet contact for his goals against Wolfsberger but also in the link-up play when drifting in from the right, and all of the above was evidenced again today.

His opening goal was hardly the most spectacular of his career, but was still a triumph for those who enjoy a well-timed run from deep, executed as if some sort of meta-joke in reference to Dele Alli. More usefully, it set the tone for a pretty idyllic afternoon stroll in the sun, taking the pressure of everyone concerned and giving a licence to The Dream Front Three to do dreamy things.

Bale’s pass for Kane’s goal was pretty indulgent stuff, those sprayed, long-range passes being the reserve of those who consider themselves above the rank-and-file of the Premier League, and his audacity to undertake such a project was indicative of an egg who is thoroughly enjoying life.

‘Tis true, he has looked like he has been enjoying life from the moment he re-signed, but more on account of the barrel of laughs that have kept him entertained while watching on from the bench, judging by the televised evidence of him chuckling away on the sidelines every week. While encouraging to see a man in high spirits, he has done little to contribute to the greater good while wrapped up and sedentary, so there was much to welcome about the sight of him today ambling into the spotlight, demanding the ball and spreading play.

Most eye-catchingly, at one point he also treated us to a throwback of Bale at the Lane, when he knocked the ball past his full-back, took him on in a short sprint and comfortably triumphed. This, combined with the absolutely sumptuous technique in his finishing, generously demonstrated again today for his fourth, is the stuff that really gets the masses chattering in excitement, and these little glimpses of the Bale of old bode well for the remainder of the season.

The interplay between The Dream Front Three at times did make the eyes widen with excitement. Stay fit and continue to play together, and one suspects that their understanding and combinations will only improve, which makes the heart race a bit, what?

3. Lucas

AANP is only too well aware that being the youngest of four siblings can at times be a pretty dispiriting gig, particularly in one’s formative years when nature dictates that you are comfortably the least accomplished of the gang. And when perching on the starting blocks and looking up to behold The Dream Front Three scattered around him, I could therefore sympathise with Lucas Moura, who, while possessed of his own set of handy talents, is nevertheless a man whose own mother would have a tough time putting him on the same lofty pedestal as Kane, Son and Bale.

Lucas, one might argue, ranks more alongside Messrs Bergwijn and Lamela in quality, and appears to be scrapping it out with these two and Dele for the coveted Number 10 role, with Senor Lo Celso presumably at some point also due to pop back into frame and offer his tuppence worth.

One therefore had to be careful not to place too much pressure upon Lucas, or, to put it more bluntly, not to judge him by the same standards of his starrier chums. The poor fellow also had to contend with the fact that AANP has made pretty public in recent weeks a level of dissatisfaction with his output, chiefly centring on his obsessions with dribbling past as many opponents as drift into his eyeline. Disheartening stuff for the man to read each week, no doubt.

Today, however, I thought Lucas made a decent fist of things. His energy was impressive, and probably necessary given that scampering around incessantly is not quite the principal virtue of G. Bale Esquire. Lucas also job-shared with Harry Kane the duty of dropping into midfield to help out the frontline staff who were getting their hands dirty, one of the game’s less glamorous undertakings but a box that no doubt needed ticking.

And I am also a personal fan of the young bean’s penchant for treating every opportunity that falls to him without discrimination, but simply lashing it as hard as his little legs allow, and trusting in God to do the rest. On one occasion today this sent the ball into orbit; on another occasion he thumped it straight at the ‘keeper, when any modicum of deftness would have brought about a goal; but the ‘Close Your Eyes And Hammer It’ approach duly struck oil on his other opportunity, so well done him.

The personal preference in these parts would be for peak Dele to make Number 10 his own, or, if tireless industry is specifically required, Erik Lamela. Indeed, a fit-again Lo Celso would also be above Lucas in the pecking order if I had my way on these things; but there can be few grumbles about either Lucas’ input or output today.

4. Davinson Sanchez

Another of our lot whose persual of these pages in recent weeks will have tested his fortitude is Davinson Sanchez. If being left to chew turf by Gundogan a few weeks ago represented the nadir of Sanchez’ Tottenham career, then his backheeled pass to a teammate in the 79th minute might well have been its zenith. Party tricks aside however, in general, this will go down in The Book of Records as one of his finest displays in lilywhite.

Four-nil though the scoreline might have been – and a pretty fair reflection of affairs at that – this was not a game without incident for the centre-backs. Make no mistake, Sanchez earned his weekly envelope today.

Burnley have generally offered a pretty stern physical and aerial test over the years, and this Sanchez (and Toby) withstood well, all the more so given that Lloris’ attitude of non-interference means that he will stay on his line come hell or high water, and that the centre-backs cannot not expect a damn jot of help from his quarter.

And having been given nightmares by the twists and turns of Gundogan on terra firma a few weeks back, Sanchez also deserves credit for sticking to his guns when similar attempts on his dignity were made today. In the areas of both shepherding and blocking, he seemed to meet all challenges thrown his way, and even at one point displayed his rarely-sighted burst of pace.

Now I’ve heard it said that one swallow does not make a summer, and as I understand it the chap who penned that particular gag was referring specifically to Sanchez and the prospect of him turning in a solid performance, the gist being that a clean sheet against Burnley does not mean Sanchez is guaranteed to be the bedrock upon which a watertight Tottenham defence will be built for years to come. And this seems a reasonable assertion, for there is plenty of evidence in the bank pointing to Sanchez being anything but bedrock as he goes about his duties.

Nevertheless, this was encouraging stuff, both in terms of the practical output and the confidence it will give him. One hopes that he can bash out similar fare against Fulham in midweek, because I think we would all breathe a little easier if the centre-back pairing in N17 began at least to look the part.

West Ham 2-1 Spurs: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Dier, Lloris and Tanganga’s Role in the Opener

Call me old-fashioned, but I’m of the school of thought that has it that the purpose of a defence is to keep opponents as far away as possible from the goods. Something akin to the attitude of a Test batsman refusing to surrender his wicket at any cost, “Over-my-dead-body” pretty much being the anthem of choice.

By contrast, the attitude of our defence seems to be far more easy-going and liberal, seeming to suggest that if you fancy wandering straight into our inner sanctum then come right in and make yourselves at home. This was strongly evident from the off, as Lloris, Dier and Tanganga were politeness personified, not daring to do anything that might impede the serene progress of West Ham towards our holiest of holies.

The cross for the opener was undoubtedly a decent one, but nothing that a firm application of Dier’s forehead would have failed to remedy pretty swiftly, and at this stage I think most right-minded observers anticipated him taking the uncontroversial step of nodding the ball back whence it came and letting the experts get on with things further up the pitch. Dier’s decision therefore to adopt a policy of non-interference made the mind swim a bit, but this curious experiment in passivity having been executed we at least had Monsieur Lloris to fall back on.

Alas, Lloris clings to his goal-line in much the same way as a toddler might cling to a cherished blanket, and although the ball hove into view within the six-yard box, and Lloris, for clarification, was fully entitled to use his hands to affect proceedings as he saw fit, he instead took a leaf out of Dier’s “Wait and See” book. While this says much for his spirit of intellectual curiosity, it didn’t really aid us in the matter at hand.

For his part, the West Ham forward in the middle of this slapstick, Antonio, reacted with all the incredulity one would expect of a man who had heard much of the fabled spirit of generosity amongst the Tottenham defence but still could not quite believe it was happening. He helped himself to two unchallenged attempts at goal from inside six yards, and who could blame him for filling his boots so greedily?

A word in passing also for young Tanganga for his role in all this. With Dier dragged out of position by the front post runner, responsibility for chaperoning Antonio fell upon the shoulders of Tanganga. It was therefore unfortunate to see him look to his elders for inspiration, and do what Dier and Lloris had done before, by staying rooted to his position with resolute passivity, determined not to influence matters but instead to watch them unfold around him. Oh, Japhet.

To his credit Tanganga made an admirable stab at a rather brutal task against Man City last week, when he was asked to keep tabs on the combined might of Sterling and Gundogan, and in general he shown an adequate grasp of the basics to merit some time in the starting line-up, but this was the sort of sizeable clanger it is pretty difficult to laugh off.

2. Sanchez

Elsewhere in the heart of what passes these days for our defence, Davinson Sanchez made one of the smarter decisions of his entire Tottenham career to date by staying well clear of affairs for the opening goal, and entrusting duties to his colleagues.

This was about the only intelligent choice he made all afternoon. He may have avoided anything in the category of ‘Monumentally Catastrophic’, but this is hardly the sign of a job well done. In general there is much about which to shoot concerned glances when observing Sanchez in action, and for anyone wondering to what sort of things I might be referring, the chap kindly provided demonstrations of many of them today, like some grotesque form of Error-Strewn Bingo.

He misjudges the flight of aerial balls; is too easily turned inside out by any opposing attacker who has the temerity to attempt a stepover; is outmuscled too easily; appears pretty petrified of the ball when in possession, typically turning back to the goalkeeper as if afraid that the ball might combust if it moves forward; and at one point was outpaced by Declan Rice. Using the age-old AANP technique of asking who would buy him if he were available, it seems a fair bet that the queue of Champions League-chasing sides would not be stretching around the block – making one ask what the hell is he doing playing for our lot?

When watching two centre-backs struggling to negotiate the absolute basics of space and time, there is a temptation for the absence of others to make the heart grow fonder, and thus I find myself now yearning for a pairing of Toby and Rodon. But realistically, this is unlikely to present much of an improvement either.

Toby’s heart remains willing, but his flesh grows weaker with each passing match; and Rodon’s love of a dramatic sliding challenge rather masks the fact that his positional errors bring about the need for such challenges in the first place.

In short, none of the current bunch are what would you describe as a towering presence at the back, and throw in a goalkeeper whose understanding of his grasp of reality and his place within it is becoming ever shakier, and it’s a heck of a problem. Our defence (and ‘keeper) seem to be worth a two-goal deficit in each game they play.

It is probably a bit much to ask any manager to turn that disjointed and error-strewn rabble into world-beaters, but I had at least hoped on his arrival that Jose might turn our back four into something greater than the sum of their parts. There is precious little indication of this happening, which suggests that the for the foreseeable future the onus will be on the attacking mob to score at least two or three each game simply to give us a chance of a point.

3. Bale and Our Second Half in General

This being Jose’s Tottenham, we waited until two goals down before showing any particular attacking urgency, but when the penny did finally drop we put on a surprisingly compelling show. Given that the combined talents of Kane, Son, Bale, Dele, Lucas and Ndombele were all in attendance one wouldn’t expect much less, but it still made a pleasant change to feel a frisson of excitement as our lot pummelled away at the opposition.

Central to this late rally was Gareth Bale, which is not a phrase I necessarily ever expected to utter again. But there he was, in glorious technicolour, looking as if he cared, and showing an impressive knack for doing mundane things with superstar quality.

His list of merits included link-up play on the right with Doherty (albeit a deployment that was enforced when Plan A, of using Tanganga as a more containing full-back, went up in smoke inside five minutes when we went behind); occasional darts infield; runs behind the defence; and, most stylishly, the deft little flicks and nudges that on paper could be recorded as simply standing in one place and dangling a limb, but in practice amounted to gloriously misleading two or three opponents into setting off in one direction while facing in the opposite direction.

This is to say nothing of the assist for Lucas’ goal (which, by the by, I made approximately the umpteenth example of a goal from a corner since Eriksen left and took his corner deliveries with him) and the volley that grazed the crossbar. Of course, hitting the bar counts for little unless he were aiming for it – and even then it would be a pretty odd objective – but all these elements amounted to the sort of performance that was a notch or two above that of which most of his contemporaries are capable.

It bodes well. No doubt it is tempting to add a grumble that it is about damn time he boded well, having spent the last six months boding anything but, while seeming happy enough to claim his weekly envelope and not giving a fig about how things boded – but for the avoidance of doubt, this was good stuff.

In recent weeks Sonny has been slightly more reticent, as if moved to find a quiet spot out on the left and reflect, undisturbed, upon life; and Kane’s radar today was around six inches away from where it ought to have been at any given moment; but it is now conceivable that all three of these might be about to hit their straps simultaneously, and with Burnley and Fulham looming large on the fixture list, a release of some pent-up frustration would be pretty timely.

4. Lamela

The general upturn in life’s events in the final half hour – in performance at least, if not in outcome – did much to soothe the savage beast that had been unleashed within me at half-time, on learning of the withdrawal of Lamela, a bullet that Lucas rather scandalously dodged.

Lamela, as has been the case on almost every occasion since his return, struck me as the pick of our bunch while in attendance. His little dribble from halfway to a spot well beyond, to set up Kane, struck me as a masterclass in how to run at pace away from would-be antagonists while being spectacularly one-footed and still managing to effect trademark stepovers even though nothing about the circumstances should, by rights, have allowed such a thing.

And in general, he combined his usual urgency with some decision-making that was probably as sensible as the situation allowed. Naturally he also found time for that customary combo of a yellow card for a late challenge aligned with a look of utter incredulity, but there is much to love about an attacker who is so affronted at not having possession that he considers it within his rights to fly into his man with the full force of every available limb in order to win the thing back.

By contrast, and as ever, any good intentions Lucas might have had at kick-off were swiftly drowned beneath his irrepressible urge to be dribbling at any point and in any part of the field, irrespective of whether the situation demanded such an undertaking or otherwise.

We will always have Amsterdam, of course, and there are times when to beat an opponent or two does everyone a service, but watching the chap get his head down and race off mazily into a cul-de-sac I cannot help but feel the I have watched him play the same game for Tottenham about a hundred times.

Of the aforementioned sextet of attacking talent with which we ended the game, Lucas struck me as arguably the weakest link, and in the straight shootout perennially in my head between Lucas and Lamela, the latter is comfortably ahead. I can only assume that Lamela, rather than Lucas, was hooked at the interval because of Lamela’s yellow: but in future weeks I expect to see a front four of Kane, Son, Bale and Lamela.

Man city 3-0 Spurs: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. Lloris

One does not really like to dwell on the misfortune of others, but it would be remiss not to record in the Book of Events the latest series of errors from our resident gate-keeper.

For the first two goals (and some might make convincing arguments also for the third) he seemed to do the hard part, of stationing himself at the appropriate coordinates and at the appointed time, with relevant limb duly outstretched, in order to make the necessary saves. These boxes having been ticked, all that remained seemed to be for him to complete the job by ensuring that aforementioned outstretched limb completed its principle purpose in life, viz. to prevent the ball entering his net.

Of course at this juncture the operation seemed to collapse in pieces. It is pretty vexing stuff, because shot-stopping has tended to be Lloris’ headline trick. One rarely sees him dashing from his line to claim crosses, and his distribution tends not to win too many awards: but for the past however many years he has at least amassed a decent array of saves. Take this away from him and tongues will wag.

And on the subject of his diminishing shot-stopping powers, I’ve noted a recent tendency of his to fall backwards as he attempts to carry out this particular duty. The second and third goals yesterday, and also the first goal against Everton (Calvert-Lewin’s powerful volley, for those struggling to keep track), each featured our man tumbling back onto his derriere.

Now not having been particularly schooled in the art as a whole I couldn’t offer much expertise on the matter, but it does seem a peculiar quirk. One would have thought a chap aiming to spring into action ought to plant his weight on his toes. This business of falling backwards suggests that the chap is more inclined to rock on his heels.

2. Hojbjerg

Regulars in this part of the world will be well aware that the affection for Hojbjerg all season has been strong. Alas, yesterday he dipped below the expected standards.

Following his errors against Everton in midweek, Hojbjerg was at it again yesterday. Some have suggested that the penalty should not have been awarded, but before examining the case for that particular defence I chide the man for getting himself into that position in the first place. The opponent in questions was Gundogan, who, in order to station himself for the aforementioned drama to unfold, had to amble forward into the area, while a chum was in possession; and at this point Hojbjerg simply watched him skip past.

As derelictions of duty go it was pretty thick stuff, and most unlike the chap. Had he tracked this run with the eagerness of a boy scout I dare say the various legs that then became tangled would have remained in tangle-free state.

Personally I had no beef with the decision itself, as it appeared that Hojbjerg kicked the chap’s standing leg, the principal crime here being one of clumsiness. All in all, as bursts of five-seconds-of-action go, this was one of the more flawed exhibits.

3. Lamela and Lucas

While Hojbjerg has been looked upon fondly all season, a more recent favourite at AANP Towers has been Erik Lamela, primarily for his combination of high energy, skulduggery and useful – if heavily left-footed – creative spark. It was also a rare opportunity for Lucas to do his damnedest, and whether by accident or design the pair of them interchanged their first half roles pretty regularly.

However, as with Hojbjerg, this seemed not to be the sort of performance upon which either man will look back with any particular fondness. It was not so much that they made any specific, game-changing mistakes – there were plenty others queueing up to do that.

Rather, it was the fact that Lamela having begun to display his talents in the final third in recent games, nothing really clicked for the young nib yesterday, and Lucas was similarly wanting. Both were guilty of making the occasional poor decision, when the very limited opportunities arose for us to poke and prod at the City back-line.

City defended well, no doubt, but our game tends to rely on correct choices in the counter-attack, to ensure that the ball whizzes from point A to B, and onto C, with blink-of-an-eye alacrity, and while this pair had fairly regular opportunities to bring the ball over halfway, neither seemed to pick the most effective options having done so.

4. Ndombele and the First Half Formation

By the time the last rites came round City were basically toying with us, but in the first half the front-page news seemed to be that Jose had dispensed with the customary tactic against Man City, of deploying a back-six under strict instruction to venture no further than their own penalty area. Instead, while hardly expansive, our lot seemed willing to poke cautious noses into the swathes of turf that lay further north.

This I welcomed. It made a pleasant change, reduced the chances of conceding and was less painful to watch than might otherwise have been the case. In practice, of course, it mattered little, but the symbolism of the thing was duly recorded here at AANP Towers.

And directly linked to this mildly more progressive outlook was the deployment of Ndombele as one of the two deeper-lying midfield souls. Pre-Christmas, the Mourinho Dirge had been founded upon a deep-lying pairing of Sissoko and Hojbjerg, both of whom seemed pretty well drilled in the art of slotting in betwixt full-back and centre-back at the drop of a hat.

With Ndombele occupying the berth however, it’s a different kettle of fish. He follows the T’s and C’s of defensively midfielding adequately enough, but coursing through his veins is an urge to pick up the ball and drag it with him over halfway and into opposition territory. In short, his deployment in the role changes the dynamic of our play. This scheme was initially pursued against West Brom last week, which, in the politest terms, was a pretty low-risk test of its efficacy. It was then wheeled out for the manic Cup-tie vs Everton, the sheer lunacy of which game made it pretty difficult to gauge its success, although Ndombele’s breaks from deep did add a useful additional dynamic to our play.

However, then to use Ndombele in the deeper role against the juggernaut that is City struck me a a pretty significant act of faith in his abilities.

The experiment went the way of all flesh in the second half, as Sissoko came on and sat deep, while Ndombele shoved forward, before being hooked – but not before this additional piece of symbolism had similarly had its details taken. Amidst the doom and gloom about the place, I do at least look forward to further use of Ndombele as a deep-lying attacking threat, in coming weeks.

5. Bale and Alli

Funnily enough it flew completely under the radar that we finished the game with something of a fantasy line-up, of Kane, Son, Bale and Dele Alli in attack.

I don’t really keep track of these things but I’d imagine it can’t have been that long ago that a decent proportion of the world’s lilywhites would have given their right arms to see that quartet in action simultaneously.

Now obviously when this dream team is assembled within the circumstances of a three-goal deficit in the dying embers of a match, it loses much of its sheen. But if somehow the best can be coaxed out of Dele, and anything remotely near fitness and form out of Bale, we might potentially have a front four that, frankly, would be far beyond anything Jose has ever done to deserve.

I suspect most of us are scratching our heads at Bale’s odd flurry of non-performances so far, but in one fleet-footed dribble past multiple City legs yesterday he gave a brief flash of hope that perhaps his appetite for such things may not have fizzled out completely.

With transfer speculation about Dele now put to bed for at least the next few months it appears that Jose has moodily decided he might as well play the two-time Young Player of the Year, on the off-chance that he has something about him. There is still enough time in the season for he and Bale to hit some loose approximation of form – and should either, or, God-willing, both do so, and with Ndombele prompting things from deep, our attacking options would suddenly abound.

Spurs 2-0 West Brom: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Lamela

It’s a rummy thing about life, and also a pretty essential cornerstone of democratic civilization, that two souls seeing exactly the same thing will draw vastly different opinions of it. With that in mind I appreciate that the view over here might not necessarily be universally shared, but I rather fancied that Erik Lamela deserves to have the rosette for being Star Performer pinned to his blazer today.

There were actually quite a few contenders, which is a rare treat, but I thought that from the off Lamela did much to set the tone. There may well be occasions on which Lamela adopts a cautious approach to life, taking a back seat and allowing himself a good half hour to get a sense of how events are playing out before getting involved; but this occasion was not one of those occasions. Instead, picking up where he had left off in midweek, he began proceedings with the air of a man pretty determined to get things done pronto.

Whenever a chum had the ball Lamela seemed to be on the move. Where in previous weeks whichever man were in possession would look up to find that all his friends had deserted him, today every time we had the ball – which was most of the time – a quick glance gave evidence of a nearby little blur of white, which on more considered inspection typically transpired to be Lamela scuttling into frame and pleading his case for involvement.

It proved a popular approach, for Lucas was in similarly supportive mood. The net result was a range of options for whomever was in possession, a treat the like of which in recent weeks has seemed a thing of wild fantasy. As a neat consequence there was variety to our attacking play, and chances came along at a pretty healthy lick.

In previous weeks the supporting roles to Son and Kane have been provided by Bergwijn, who is typically preoccupied with marking an opponent, and Ndombele, whose myriad talents could not truthfully be said to number amongst them ‘Limitless Energy’. The contributions of Lamela and Lucas therefore, simply off-the-ball and in providing options, made a massive impact.

It’s almost an afterthought, but when in possession too they performed handily enough, Lucas in particular seeming to delight in the opportunity to indulge in a few playground-esque wriggles around as many opponents as he could draw in.

2. Hojbjerg’s Passing

On the subject of the Star Performer rosette, what I believe in the trade is known as “An Honourable Mention” ought to be made for the ever-impressive P-E Hojbjerg.

So far, so AANP, I hear you mumble; but in the sort of plot-twist that typically happens around p. 195 and is greeted by gasps of disbelief, in this case the plaudits for Hojbjerg are not so much for the role of indefatigable caretaker (although it should be said that his caretaking was of the usual efficient and no-nonsense ilk) but instead for his surprisingly impressive forward-passing range.

This, I confess, took me by surprise. The point of stationing Ndombele in the deep-lying midfield role alongside Hojbjerg seemed to me to have been that the latter would roll up his sleeves and fly through the muck, precisely in order that the former might receive possession and pick out killer passes.

Instead, while Ndombele seemed often to wander off in the directionless manner one sometimes sees traced by snails along the ground – you know the sort, meandering around and back on themselves, with no clear end-point in evidence – Hojbjerg seemed to take it upon himself to combine the rolls of muck-flying and killer-passing. And he did the latter in particular with aplomb.

I recall he had shown in the game away to Man Utd a surprising knack for the weighted pass inside the full-back, a routine looked upon with particular fondness here at AANP Towers, and he was at it here again, sliding in Aurier deliciously in the first half.

Much has been made of the well-spotted and equally well-weighted pass to set up Kane’s opener, but it ought not to be overlooked that immediately prior to that he set the whole routine in motion by playing another ball inside the opposing full-back to pick out Ben Davies, in a mini-acre of space on the left wing. Ben Davies, being Ben Davies, took the blandest option available and wandered infield to little effect before giving the ball back to Hojbjerg, and from there the goal was duly assisted.

However, even Homer occasionally nods, and at one point Hojbjerg made a pig’s ear of things by allowing himself to be caught in possession and a West Brom counter-attack to magic itself out of nothing.

(But as it turned even this was drizzled in stardust, as the resulting passage of play saw West Brom pile men forward, only for our lot to pinch possession and set off on the counter-attack for our second. One is tempted to suggest that Hojbjerg, in his infinite wisdom, deliberately lost possession in order to draw out West Brom for the counter-attack – but this is maybe a little too fanciful.)

3. Kane

Inevitably, where there is a discussion of Star Performer rosettes, one need not wait too long before the distinctive brogue of Harry Kane is making itself heard, and in his understated – and at times, headline-grabbing – manner he was at it again today.

His radar was actually decidedly shonky in the early portions, but that particular wrong was righted in good time, and his equalling of Bobby Smith’s mark as our second highest scorer ever gave a handy moment for reflection on quite how magnificent he is.

However, as is often the case these days, his goal amounts almost to an afterthought, because it was the overall Kane display that got the juices flowing here. The whole game was, of course, a completely different kettle of fish from the Chelsea debacle in midweek, but nevertheless the contrast between Vinicius against Chelsea and Kane today could not have been much starker.

Where Vinicius was honest but limited as a fairly static and ineffective target man, Kane bobbed and weaved about the place, dropping deep as often as he headed to the uppermost point in the formation.

Naturally enough, West Brom were pretty spectacularly out of their depth when it came to handling him, and while they went through all the correct and official motions it was basically to little effect, because these days Kane just does what he wants and there is precious little that most defences can do to contain him.

The chest-off to Lucas for our second goal was a particular highlight, and the interplay with Lamela, Lucas, Son and, slightly oddly, Ben Davies, in the first half in particular, brought a bit of fun back into our football.

4. Jose’s Redeeming Tactics

All things considered I’m not sure this could have been more satisfactory if specifically hand-picked from a catalogue of such things.

Having wasted no opportunity to deliver both barrels at Out Glorious Leader in recent weeks for the style (was there ever a greater misnomer?) he has cultivated to such ghastly effect, it is only fair to give a faint but meaningful nod of the head towards him today for making such tweaks as were necessary, to both personnel and positioning of personnel. Even before kick-off, the teamsheet alone had an uplifting whiff about it.

Aside from the return to arms of Kane, which to the amateur sleuths amongst us wasn’t really as much of a shock as the BT commentator seemed to have it, in selecting his team Jose appeared to have set out with the express intention to win back some of the favour lost at AANP Towers in recent weeks.

Now if you don’t mind, at this point I’ll take a minute to delve into the technicalities, so by all means feel free to disappear elsewhere for a few minutes, and pick up again at the next paragraph. Essentially, by shoving Sissoko out of the picture, dragging Ndombele back into a deeper role alongside Hojbjerg, where once Sissoko had stood, and giving Lamela the freedom of N17 in the more advanced midfield role – where once Ndombele had stood – the whole setup looked infinitely better balanced than in previous weeks.

For whatever reason, and despite possessing many of the necessary attributes for the role, Ndombele is rarely at the peak of his powers when granted the dream role of Number 10. Instead his many talents seem better evidenced when getting stuck into the action from a deeper starting point, and particularly when excused of too many defensive duties, so his delegation in the deeper role today made good sense. Oddly enough, despite the tailor-made platform, his performance ended up being slightly muted, but it mattered little given that the eyes of everyone else on show fairly lit up from the off.

Admittedly one had to take certain accommodating circumstances into account, not least the fact that this was a West Brom team seemingly determined to be even more like Jose’s Tottenham than Jose’s Tottenham, taking every opportunity to sit back and defend their own area until they fell behind. To have set up in the face of this with the usual back-six would have been a bit thick even by Jose’s standards. Nevertheless, we showed precious little attacking intent recently against a similarly lowly Fulham, so the more progressive tweaks in personnel and position were very welcome today – even if the cynic inside me does suspect a return to drearier ways in upcoming fixtures.

Spurs 0-1 Chelsea: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. The Second Half Improvement (It’s An Admittedly Low Bar…)

I thought it would make a sunny change to start with the positives, and before you raise a suspicious eyebrow and lead me away gently to the nearest padded cell, let me pick out the nuances of that one. The second half struck me as, if not quite a wind of change, then at least a breath of air marginally less stale and rancid than the first half.

Whereas in the first 45, with the possible exception of the ever-frenzied Hojbjerg, our lot barely raised themselves out of a collective sulk, huffily chasing Chelsea players because they absolutely had to, and then moodily booting the ball away whenever it was given to them; in the second half they at least roused themselves to amble forward into attacking positions, as if suddenly introduced to the concept of being allowed to score goals, and being quite taken by it.

Admittedly we were still a few miles short of looking like we might win, or even draw, but the tentative dipping of toes into the world of ambitious football seemed a massive step up from the first half (and from what feels like about a hundred preceding games), in which the plan from the starter’s gun has been to retreat into our penalty area with a bizarre paranoia and refuse to come out.

To sum up things, at one point in the second half, having committed approximately half of the team forward into attack, we lost possession around the halfway line and (I think) Kovacic picked up the ball and simply sauntered, unopposed, all the way to the edge of our penalty area, with not a lilywhite shirt anywhere near him. At which point he promptly had a nosebleed and bunted the ball harmlessly out of play; but the point is that this is the sort of goal I’d much rather concede. I’d much prefer that we get caught short because we have committed too many bodies forward, and end up with literally nobody between halfway and our own penalty area to make a challenge, than the usual goals we concede, of dragging ten men back to the edge of our own area and spending 80 minutes desperately trying to clear our lines and catch our breath before the next wave hits.

That was how we conceded to Fulham, and Leeds, and Palace, and Liverpool, to name but four. In each of those cases there was a gloomy inevitability to the whole sorry mess; and moreover it was soul-destroying to watch. At least in yesterday’s second half, albeit still rather tactically clueless and light on creativity, we applied some pressure and there seemed a hint that some sort of goalmouth threat might brew.

And that’s where things have got to at AANP Towers – success is now measured not by how many goals we score, or how few we concede, but whether the goals we do concede are less dreary than previously.

2. Lamela

Next in the long line of two positives was the extended cameo from everyone’s favourite Master of the Dark Arts, Erik Lamela. That he comfortably became our man of the match despite playing around half an hour speaks volumes about the competition, but it was still an eye-catching bop.

The young mutt’s capacity to scuttle around incessantly like a wind-up toy unleashed has never been in doubt. Indeed, cynics might suggest it ranks alongside Dark Arts as one of his greatest talents. And, naturally, it was on show yesterday, his relentless energy looking ever relentlesser when contrasted to the moping, static teammates around him.

But in a pleasing and unexpected development, Lamela’s buzzing turned out not to be pointless. In fact, every time he buzzed, he seemed to do so with the express intent of demanding the ball – which might not sound like rocket-science, but in a world in which the mantra on everyone’s lips seemed to be, “I know you have the ball and are looking for a passing option, but I’m quite happy standing in my own spot and minding my own business, so you can look around for the next option, Miladdio,” Lamela’s eagerness to be at the hub of things made him seem like a veritable Maradona circa ‘86.

It occurred to me while watching him do his damnedest to breathe life into the collective lilywhite corpse that if Gareth Bale had at any point since his return put in a shift of that ilk the adulation would be wild and long.

Whether or not Lamela has done enough to merit a place in the starting line-up probably depends on what the voices in Jose’s head are whispering, for the current drill seems to be to ask Bergwijn to carry out all manner of defensive duties (which, to his credit, he tends to do pretty well). The concept of Bergwijn as a bona fide attacking threat seems to have become ever more foreign. If it is attacking brio that is required, then Lamela might well be the man – but when does ask oneself when Jose has ever required attacking brio.

3. Vinicius

The fact that Jose picked Bale in the last game and Vinicius in this, points squarely at him having little faith in either, but that can probably be logged away in the rather lengthy file marked ‘Jose: Questionable Choices’.

This was Vinicius’ big opportunity, if being starved of the ball or any company, and given three burly minders for the duration, can legally be described as a ‘big opportunity’. If ever a game were going to remind a man that life at Spurs is not all training ground japes and hat-tricks against Marine then this was that game.

Much of his first half was spent watching Chelsea bods knock the ball away from him, and when we occasionally lobbed it up towards him I was disappointed to note that the rather elegant touches of a refined support striker occasionally evidenced in the Europa League had rather cruelly deserted him, he instead resembling a brick wall as the damn thing simply bounced harmlessly off him.

His big first-half opportunity came, inevitably, when we countered, and he found himself at the hub of things, with Son advancing at pace to his left. However, when the crucial moment arrived he seemed unsure whether he had too many feet, or perhaps too few feet; and by the time he had finished counting his feet the moment had passed and the ball had been spirited away.

This was pretty much the extent of his involvement until the dying embers of the second half. In true Jose style, having trailed for an hour, our heroes waited until the 87th minute to swing a cross into the area. And it was a pretty decent cross too, replete with whip, pace and all the trimmings.

While not exactly a tap-in, this certainly seemed a presentable chance for one standing in excess of six foot, of sound mind and body and who had spent a lifetime being drilled in the necessary art. Alas, where Vinicius needed to summon the spirit of Harry Kane, he was possessed instead by the ghosts of Soldado, Janssen, Postiga and Llorente, and planted the header six inches west of the desired sweet spot.

A shame, because as the studio bods pointed out, taking his one chance in a game like that would have excused 89 other minutes of anonymity, whilst also doing wonders for his confidence.

As it happens, the miss seemed to confirm that here is a promising sort of bean, who may in time develop into a competent all-round forward, but who at present is far from being the solution to the Harry Kane-shaped hole. Of course, the quirk of science that means he is not the exact genetic replica of Harry Kane is not his fault, but it nevertheless leaves us no nearer to filling the aforementioned hole.

4. Dier

Vinicius being relatively wet behind the ears (and there is something about him that gives the impression of a small boy born into a body about eight sizes too large for him) he can probably be excused the worst of the rotten fruit being pelted in the direction of our heroes. Elsewhere, and all over the pitch, there seemed to be worse offenders.

Principal amongst these, and not for the first time by my reckoning, was Eric Dier. Dier is a curiosity, being a central defender without any pace, and whose decision-making and passing can veer from Pretty Good to Pretty Dreadful, with both extremes typically on show in any given game. He seems designed, appropriately enough, for a Jose style of play, that requires a line of six defenders to stay in the same spot and block all shots and crosses that enter their immediate radius. Feed him according to this diet, and he looks a happy man.

True to form, on occasions yesterday he dribbled or distributed the ball out of defence with some elegance. However, he could have played the entire game like Franz Beckebauer and it would not have excused the absolute mind-boggling stupidity of his foul for the penalty, conceded, incredibly, at the third attempt, and while lying on the ground for heaven’s sake.

Nor was it the first penalty he has rather needlessly conceded since the Covid interruption, and as if to hammer home quite what a vacuum exists between his ears he then blasted a half-volley towards the head of Lloris in the second half.

Admittedly we are hardly replete with reliable defensive alternatives, but with gate-keepers like Dier patrolling the rear one is tempted to conclude that the safest thing would be to keep the ball as far away from our defence as possible – an idea it seems unlikely that Jose will adopt.

5. Jose’s Future

As an afterthought, and in common with many of lilywhite persuasion, I have wondered quite what the future holds for Jose. Not in terms of whether he’ll live out his years on a vineyard in Portugal, you understand, but more the immediate future, and specifically his employment at N17.

Having worked so hard to secure him, I presume that Levy will be more patient with him than, for example, the tax-payers of AANP Towers. (Some have mooted that the prospect of paying off his contract will dissuade Levy from sacking him: I suspect not, on the grounds that this has hardly stopped Levy before.)

The drill was very much to win trophies, so there is a good chance that winning the Carabao would buy Jose more time – and if there is one thing it is possible to imagine Jose doing, better than almost anyone else, it is masterminding victory in a one-off, winner-takes-all match.

However, keep losing league games and the Carabao will not save him. I suspect only a Europa win would, should league form continue to nosedive.

I suspect the style of play does not particularly bother Levy either, particularly without any fans around to give polite reminders of the mood amongst the masses.

This is fairly exasperating, because it is the style more than anything else that is causing my own, personal, current flap. I am the odd sort of egg who thinks that if we are going to lose anyway, (and at present we usually do), then we might as well lose while having a dashed good go, rather than camping in our own area and showing zero attacking spark. Which is why I was mildly comforted by the second half last night: while still pretty dire, it at least had us committing men forward. Jose’s defensive style was only palatable as long as it brought results and had us challenging for the title. At present, we might as well set out with Ossie’s 5-0-5 and at least go down in a blaze of glory. We certainly have the personnel to play more entertainingly.

And finally, I wonder where this leaves Harry Kane, and indeed Sonny. It seems criminal for a manager to have two of the best forwards in the world, in the prime of their careers, and design a system that gives them mere scraps. Irrespective of the style of play, if results continue and we finish mid-table, I do fear that Kane, and Son, might consider that their final years are better spent elsewhere.

Spurs 1-3 Liverpool: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Hojbjerg a Lone Ray of Sunshine

While one never really knows what to expect with our lot, generally it seems safest to assume the worst, so when the teamsheet hit the airwaves – with its absence of Alderweirelds, and unnecessarily liberal scattering of right-backs – my profile took on a pretty ashen hue, and remained that way for kick-off and the opening sallies.

At which point it actually gained a pretty healthy tint, because oddly enough our lot began proceedings like they meant business. And not the usual Jose-induced business of retreating into the collective shell and guarding the edge of their own penalty area. Au contraire. The intent on show, if not exactly that of a mob beelining for the opposition goal, was at least that of a mob spitting on its hands and getting down to it.

‘Zip’ was the word that sprung to mind, in those early exchanges. We moved the ball with a swiftness and positivity so rarely seen these days that I eyed it with some suspicion. Equally, when out of possession, for the opening ten minutes or so at least, we raced about the place sniffing out mini-contests in which to embroil ourselves. Zip abounded. It was just a shame about the final eighty minutes.

Central to this pleasingly sprightly preface was, as ever, P-E Hojbjerg Esq. Although every week the commentators seem to talk about his debut against Everton as a reference point, as if that performance caused Covid, the fact is that if Player of the Season rosettes were awarded on the basis of Being Outstanding Whilst All Around You The Walls And Ceiling Are Burning, then Hojbjerg would be Kevin de Bruyne. And again yesterday, he set the tone.

By the end of the piece, at which point the walls and ceilings really had burnt to the ground, Hojbjerg was the only one who could have left the stage with head held high, having been right at it from the opening buzzer. It was hardy his fault that he and Ndombele were outnumbered in the centre – I will chide a player for many things, but not for failing to be two people – and it was good to see him spend much of the opening salvo in conference with Thiago, slap-bang in the meat of the thing (bearing in mind that Thiago is a man who, but a year ago, had the freedom of the stadium as Bayern stuck seven past us).

Hojbjerg did not necessarily boss the game (as mentioned, we were regularly outnumbered in the centre), and, as befits a mortal, he made his fair share of mistakes. Yet he, more than anyone else in lilywhite, seemed to carry out his duties with the determined attitude of a man whose life mission it is to see a thing done. Even when he inadvertently miscontrolled the ball out of play he seemed to do it with a wild frenzy in his eyes.

His goal (one heck of a hit, by the by) and indeed celebration were cut from similarly frenzied cloth. As noted above, by the time the final curtain fell most of our lot had slowed to sulky walks and long given up, but Hojbjerg at least seemed to care.

2. Ndombele Continuing to Mesmerise

While dwelling on the positives – all two of them – it’s satisfying to note that Ndombele’s transformation from timid and clumsy, bespectacled Daily Planet reporter to cape-wearing, superhuman saver-of-the-day is nearing completion.

As demonstrated when he set the cogs in motion for Sonny’s disallowed goal, there are times when the ball is absolutely stuck to his feet and no number of opponents can do the damnedest thing about it. In bobbing from A to B in that move he seemed to take out half the Liverpool team, and it was something of a running theme throughout the first half.

In general his talents were fairly wasted, either receiving the ball too deep or in circumstances too pressurised to do much more than shove it elsewhere like a hot potato, but whenever opportunity presented itself – and frequently when it did not – he was swivelling away from a man in red like a mean uncle toying with a small child.

In fact, after a while it all went to his head, and he started throwing in stepovers and body-swerves when there was really no need, but this could be excused. The fellow appears to be fulfilling his side of the bargain and making good on that potential. Just a shame that he is peddling his wares in a team that almost seems designed to minimise his abundant talent (see also Son, H-M and Kane, H).

3. Jose’s Tactics

Having been one of the principal cast members in the first half, Ndombele barely saw the ball in the second half, as Jose’s rearrangement of deck-chairs looked less the work of a multiple Champions League-winning genius and more the work of AANP desperately trying whatever springs to mind while overseeing another Football Manager failure.

I will go relatively easy on Jose for this, because his tactics, though they often make me want to stab out my own eyes, do regularly seem to bring home the bacon. I’d be willing to bet this season’s Carabao Cup, and possibly Europa, on that.

On this occasion however, Jose tried to be far too clever for his own good, and rather than deriving a few percentage gains here and there, he seemed instead to create an amorphous mess that handed the initiative to an out-of-form and injury-hit Liverpool we’ll rarely have a better chance to beat.

The Doherty Experiment, featuring an out-of-form player playing out of position, failed. Doherty looked all of the above. I suppose it’s not his fault that having spent a lifetime honing his left leg for decorative purposes only he was at a loss when asked to use it as an attacking weapon against the Champions, but frankly we might as well have stuck Bale or Rose (or Tanganga) out there. Or been completely radical and used Toby at centre-back with Davies on the left…

(The thought actually struck me that perhaps Doherty, well advertised as a lifelong Arsenal fan, was executing the perfect con – infiltrating the enemy to destroy it from within. I’ll let that idea ferment.)

The choice of a back-three was similarly dubious in concept and wretched in execution. Young Rodon looks like he might one day become a decent – or even majestic – centre-half, but if a young pup is flying in with mightily impressive sliding tackles it tends to mean he has been caught out of position in the first place. Between he and Aurier we managed to usher in Mane for around half a dozen face-time chats with Hugo, the dam eventually bursting on half-time.

On top of which, the use of a back-three left us undermanned in midfield. Everything about the approach seemed flawed.

In his defence Jose did try to remedy this by switching to a back-four and adding an extra body in midfield, but that extra body happened to be possessed by young Master Winks, who seemed oddly convinced that the road to success lay in passing to Liverpool players at every opportunity.

Jose can probably be excused the blame for that inventive approach to tide-turning, but for ignoring Messrs Bale and Vinicius, and sticking Sonny atop the tree and starving him, he deserves all the eye-rolling and incredulous outstretched hands going. Lamela, of whom I am generally quietly fond, entered the arena and promptly disappeared, and when Bale was tossed on he yet again found it beneath him to sprint.

Meanwhile at the other end, young Rodon took a rather unforgiving physics lesson in front of a worldwide audience of millions, discovering that a bouncing ball on a wet surface doth not a loving bedfellow make; and Lloris, having admirably performed his half of a Chuckle Brothers tribute act with Eric Dier for the first goal, obligingly set up Liverpool for some target practice for their second.

I daresay one of those Renaissance chappies with a palette and one ear might have quite enjoyed depicting on canvass this perfect storm of tactical calamity and individual disaster, but at AANP Towers the reaction was simply to clasp hands to head and wish that Jose would hurry up and win his trophy so that we can get rid of him and start again.

4. McManaman and the Art of Not Kicking In One’s Own Television

The plan on settling down with parchment and quill had been also to muse on Kane’s injury, Sonny’s first half miss, Dier, Bale and so on and so forth. But simply dredging up the memories has rather sapped my will to live, so instead forgive me if I veer off-topic to finish.

Back in the heady summer of 2019, on inviting various chums over to AANP Towers for the Champions League Final, the one stipulation that accompanied this golden ticket was that, whatever their allegiance, attendees must not cheer on the opposition. My rationale being that if I wanted a partisan crowd, I could simply venture to a public house, and enjoy to my heart’s content the thrill of an irritating Liverpool fan nattering incessantly in my ear.

Last night, I rather feel that I was treated to that exact experience. McManaman infuriated throughout. Whether eulogising over often fairly by-the-numbers Liverpool passing (and not treating our lot the same); castigating Sonny for perceived diving (and not treating his lot the same); bleating for the handball to be ignored even when told otherwise by the resident studio ref (and conveniently forgetting the Champions League Final ‘handball’ by Sissoko); or casually admitting that he has not watched much of Spurs (the job for which he is paid, and for which most of us would kill) and asking someone else how Bale has been playing, the fellow drove me to within one swing of a Hojbjerg right foot of kicking in my own television.

Ex-players as pundits is not an issue per se, if they can keep their allegiances neatly compartmentalised, or perhaps offer inside knowledge that the average tax-payer would miss. But employing an ex-player simply to hear him emit joyous, wordless noises when his former team is in action is a bit thick.

It’s an argument I’m happy to wave in the direction of Messrs Jenas and Hoddle too – it naturally grates a little less to hear them refer to our lot as “we”, but I’d be perfectly happy if someone completely neutral were roped in for the gig instead.

So all in all, pretty rotten stuff. One hopes that the players feel sufficiently enraged to dish out an absolute hammering to Brighton on Sunday.

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