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Watford 2-1 Spurs: Four Tottenham Observations

1. Pretty Dashed Ordinary Fare

In truth I could point an accusatory digit at any one of around half a dozen of our mob today, so I’ll dish out a collective fingerwag instead. In the opening exchanges the most that could be said was that our back three looked neat and tidy. Lucas pottered around, and countless corners were swung in and headed away, but it was all about as inspiring as a view from one of the lower decks of the Titanic.

Not that Watford did much of any note either, and when a sequence of stumbles and ricochets resulted in a goal so half-baked it was barely worthy of registering, the reaction at AANP Towers was one of quizzical shrugs and relief that the job was at least being done, albeit with all the aesthetic quality of The Elephant Man on a bad hair day.

Gallingly, it took little more than for Watford to yank one or two of our lot in the cloakroom and demand their lunch money for the whole thing to come crashing down. They bullied us for around ten minutes, which was enough to tootle off with game, set and the whole dashed match. To be so simply bundled out of the way, and for that ten minute spell to be sufficient to defeat us, seems pretty ropey fare.

2. Midfield Impotence

There was something oddly impotent about our midfield throughout. Dembele, who had been making a pretty useful stab of things when hauled from the bench to sprinkle some control onto proceedings in the first couple of games this season, looked, as against United, a tad too casual about life from the off. As if the exact destination of his passing was neither here nor there, so long as one appreciated that in his head he had the right sort of idea.

Neither did he at any point really provide the sort of surge that screams “I no longer care a hang for this, I’m charging straight through the middle and if you want to stop me you’ll pretty well have to grab me by the waist and haul me down.” Young Winks had a stab at the aforementioned, bless him, during his two-minute cameo, but Dembele seemed content to shuttle the ball sideways and backwards, with the air of a man who had somewhere more urgent to be at full-time. Like the Chinese Super League, perhaps.

Christian Eriksen also gave the strangely neutered performance. There were one or two speculative pops from distance, and some token efforts to combine with Trippier on the right, but the suspicion never really disappeared that throughout proceedings he was stifling a yawn.

Admittedly, for one glorious first half moment it appeared that the whole midfield gang had been grabbed by the shoulders and rather violently shaken from their mid-afternoon slumbers, as they popped a series of first-time passes up the field, resulting in Lucas being within a cat’s whisker of a clean shot at goal. That aside, the whole performance had something of the casual about it, and we the viewing public had the right to chunter.

3. Dele’s Multiple Touches

It is hardly fair to pick on an individual, but more for the sake of venting a personal gripe, Dele Alli is doing a terrific job of frustrating the dickens out of yours truly. Throw a football – or even, one suspects, a golf ball, or pebble, or young rodent – at the blighter and you suspect he’ll trap it on his instep with nary a thought, effortlessly flick it up once or twice and nutmeg someone. His technique is not really in question.

However, if our heroes are pinging the ball around hither and thither, once it reaches the Dele size nines it stays with him and life swiftly seeps from the build-up. One- or two-touch jousting is utterly foreign to the young blister. It makes me want to sprint to the nearest brick wall and bang my head against it, such is the frustration. Just pass the dashed thing along! The chap seems physically incapable of releasing it before his sixth touch.

To give him his dues, I find an oddly mesmeric quality to his off-ball movement. On a few occasions in each game so far this season he has channelled his inner Houdini and drifted from the clutches of the nearest foe, to saunter, undetected, into the cauldron of the opposition area, and proceeded to make a nuisance of himself.

It is a pretty nifty skill. It was evidenced today when he was picked out by Toby and looped a header wide, in the first half, and may well be facilitated by the fact that we now have two hardy souls ploughing the attacking furrow.

So pros and cons to the young fish, but the point remains that if I had to swig a dram of the good stuff for every unnecessary touch he applied I suspect I would be slumped across the sofa with my excuses ready for a non-appearance in the office, before the half-time gong had sounded.

4. Kane Similarly Off-Colour

Even the poster boy was skulking around a little moodily, fluffing his lines and trotting down dead-ends, as happens to us all from time to time.

In Kane’s defence, the Job Description ever since the latter stages of the World Cup seems to have been to loiter around halfway wining free-kicks in a Shearer-esque style, so this he obediently does. The presence of Lucas tearing around further up the pitch, while jolly handy for the team, has not necessarily proven the most useful addition to Kane’s own ill-disguised agenda to score all the goals, and as a result one can pretty much count on a single hand the presentable chances he has had so far this season.

Dashed vexing then – and the eagle-eyed will have noticed that vexation is a recurring theme within today’s musings – that when he did finally have a sniff of glory, at 1-0, the young bean, who has spent the last four seasons turning Greed In Front Of Goal into a personal trademark, oddly attempted to pick a slightly unlikely pass, rather than putting his head down and swinging a left clog, or at least having the decency to cut in on his right foot and curl away.

It was simply that sort of day I suppose. No doubt things will be compounded by enemies of the Queen’s English attempting to merge the separate words “lax” and “lackadaisical” in their attempts to describe this afternoon’s lilywhite dirge, and the gloomy mood at AANP Towers will be capped off.

Man Utd 0-3 Spurs: Five Tottenham Observations

1. The Starting XI

Despite the telly box coverage suggesting long into the night that only one team was involved in last night’s binge, and accordingly spending hours dissecting the various ills of the vanquished hosts and their charming manager, my pretty keen sense of sight informed me that a second team was present, and, despite a decidedly iffy start, did a spot of top-notch smashing-and-grabbing, showing a clinical edge the absence of which has been bemoaned in AANP Towers since we were knee-high.

Pre kick-off the omens were surprisingly rosy. The harbingers of doom who have been dining for months off the revelations that Messrs Alderweireld, Rose and Dembele are getting their heads down and haring off towards the exit, were left a tad nonplussed when all three were named in the starting eleven.

And what a starting eleven! Crikey, it was as if the spirit of 2015/16 had suddenly awoken and sprouted the terrific idea to rock up in August 2018 at Old Trafford of all places!

Following a couple of game-changing cameos, Dembele was deposited slap-bang in the middle of the team, to renew the halcyon axis of yesteryear with Dier. And despite the brave faces and earnest explanations, few juries would be convinced that Sanchez and Davies are, pound for pound, better options than Toby and Rose, respectively at rear and rear-left.

With the possible, debatable exception of Son it was our strongest eleven. And all this against a United team that had appeared to have played at least once this season with their shoelaces tied together. “Optimism” would be stretching it, but the whiff at AANP Towers beforehand was definitely on the sweeter side, even if certain members of the mob were not quite up to match fitness.

2. Kamikaze Start

Naturally enough, therefore, the assembled dream team appeared to take the lead from their captain and stagger around the place in the opening thrusts like they had each downed one snifter too many.

Misplaced passes seemed to be the vogue, with Rose most obviously guilty but strongly supported by each of his defensive chums. Dembele’s shield of invincibility appeared to have run out of batteries, while up top we were treated to the sight of World Cup Kane, heroically doing all his work on halfway with back to goal.

One rather winced watching it all unfold, and though we missed out on that penalty call, one might fairly accurately opine that we were a touch fortunate to be level at half-time.

3. Clinical Finishing. Who Knew?

As mentioned in dispatches, our heroes then picked one heck of a time to right the wrong of countless previous seasons and suddenly start taking chances with all the dead-eyed ruthlessness of one of those black-clad snipers in action films shooting from a rooftop several blocks away.

While very much in the game I’m not sure we had a clear-cut opportunity prior to taking the lead, and even that was hardly a regulation slip-catch. It’s not quite a professional medical opinion, but I wouldn’t mind writing a short paper to assert that Harry Kane is not currently fully fit – however, be that as it may, the young nib still knows how to make the best of a raw deal, and leaning backwards, with little more than a postage stamp at which to aim, it was a terrific header.

Moreover, a hop and a skip later we were doing it again. Eriksen is hardly the most flappable chap around anyway, but the coolness he showed to look up and pick his pass, while racing towards the area, was worthy of a cap-doff.
Marvellous also to observe that in a world of dinks and step-overs, Lucas does not hang around when a chance presents itself. While some might idly stand around and gossip – or Lukaku might swing in shots from all angles, hitting everything in sight except the net – Lucas just blasts the dashed thing into the bottom corner before running off to execute that fantastic leap-celebration routine that makes me love him even more.

4. Good Honest Man-Love for Lucas

And while on the subject, this chap had quite the night all round. He seems to do what one has hoped for several years that Lamela might do, if you get me drift. (And to his credit, it was exactly what Lamela did do, last weekend, in setting up Kane’s goal, if you pardon me becoming a little meta.)

To whomever hit upon the idea of playing Lucas as a second striker, rather than an inverted-winger-type, I raise my glass, because it worked a treat. Bursting from deep and haring around like a lifer suddenly granted his freedom, Lucas evidently put the fear of God into the poor, back-pedalling souls ahead of him.

For all the neat, zippy passing, we have rarely boasted an egg with these attributes, not since Bale and rarely beforehand. One or two swallows doth not a sun-tan provide, ‘tis true, but the signs are encouraging. The chap won’t do it every week, but it is a dashed handy string to the bow.

5. Toby

Naturally enough Moura gets the neon lights, but much of the dirty work was done – and with lashings of aplomb – by Toby at the back. Admittedly the first half hour was about as rickety as a poorly-constructed wooden bridge in a gale, but during the second half semi-onslaught in particular the young fish delivered a performance almost as immaculate as his hair.

Sanchez has bedded in exceptionally well over the past 12 months, but Toby is utterly peerless. This may still be a cunning ruse to bump his value before shoving him out Stage Left, but if this were a valedictory performance it was a rousing one. Hang on to him, and the chances of this being a defining season at N17 increase exponentially. And who doesn’t want one of those curves on their graph?

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

Spurs 3-1 Fulham: Four Tottenham Observations

1. The Return of Toby Alderweireld

Quite the unexpected bonus to hoop up and see Toby’s name on the teamsheet, what? Rather like turning up to school expecting the usual six hours of drudgery, and being told instead that all lessons are off as a visiting circus has popped in to entertain the dickens out of everyone.

Absence makes the heart grow fonder and all that, and there was something terrifically reassuring about seeing Toby and his immaculate hair pop himself on the right of the back three and get to work.

Not that there was much work to be done in truth. Bar that awkward fifteen minutes or so when Fulham scored, one got the feeling that our defensive bods spent most of the afternoon simply swapping stories about their World Cup adventures.

So if you want a blow by blow account of the young imp’s performance it might make for pretty dreary reading. Suffice to say he did little wrong, and if blame should be apportioned anywhere for the goal conceded Messrs Sanchez and Davies ought probably to have fingers wagged in their direction.

What the future might hold for Toby is presumably known only by Levy, Poch, Toby himself and one or two select others, who communicate via knowing nods and mysterious handshakes. This whole episode might simply have been a cunning plan to scrape off the rust and give the chap a glossy sheen with which to preen in the transfer window. Hope nevertheless springs like nobody’s business here at AANP Towers that the chap will still be in situ for the coming season’s rigours.

2. Lucas Moura-Watch

For those amongst you who are not up to date on these things, I can assure you that one or two nibs have been quite beside themselves at the fact that our Commander-in-Chief kept the wallet firmly out of view all summer, with not a single signing made. That particular barrel of fish is worth an entire thesis in itself, with rights, wrongs and nuances in every dashed direction – but the upshot of it all is that the nearest thing we have a to a new signing this season is a fully-acclimatised Lucas Moura.

As the mathematically-talented will have noted, it’s two starts in two games for the chap now. I don’t mind admitting that the fleeting glimpses of him last season had set my hopes sky-rocketing, for here appeared to be a chap who’s great thrill in life was to put his head down and run at pace at terrified defences, rather like a Brazilian version of our own tearaway Prime Minister.

Curiously enough, this season has seen precious little of those mazy, pacy dribbles. There is a sense in which I wanted to dig out the receipt and check the T’s and C’s of the Moura purchase, because I was very much of the opinion that we were sold the chap precisely on that proviso, but in fairness it turns out that he has various other strings to his bow.

Most impressive to me was his out-of-possession workrate. This should not surprise, I suppose, because Poch has long been an evangelist of that sort of muck, so it would have made little sense to sign the blighter unless he were fully on board. Nevertheless, like one of those chappies at school who would spend every spare minute with his head down, beavering away at his geography homework, Lucas seemed to determine to impress the man in charge, and the Fulham back-line were barely given a moment’s peace.

End-product was a rather mixed bag. He overran an early chance (and might have had a penalty for his troubles), missed a jolly straightforward header and then scored an absolute peach of a goal. For the second consecutive week I consider that we have not yet seen the best of the blighter, but nevertheless there was a decent amount in there to encourage.

3. A Loving Ode to Kieran Trippier

Unlikely thought it might have sounded a year or two ago, Kieran Trippier is fast establishing himself as one of the most well-loved cherubs in our ranks.

For a start he has the distinct advantage of not being Serge Aurier, and this talent manifested itself in abundance on Saturday, in the first half in particular, when Trippier time and again made himself available as the de facto right winger, and was duly handed the ball and invited to make merry. Be it a delicate dink from Eriksen or a cross-field ping from Kane or Dele, the ball was repeatedly churned out to him and he made pretty nifty use of it.
Blessed with the ability to deliver crosses whipped or half-volleyed, he was pretty much our main attacking outlet.

When the opener did eventually come it was sparked by neither a whip nor a half-volley, but a cute dink to the byline where Eriksen was chasing. Quite how Fulham overlooked Trippier’s threat after the summer he’s had is a little perplexing, but thus did the cookie crumble.

And then to top things off, that free-kick was positively Beckham-esque. Hard-working and blessed with a wand of a right-foot, Trippier is fast establishing himself as the sort of egg I would like a daughter to bring home.

4. In-Game Changes

As frequenters to these parts will know, I worship fairly committedly at the altar of Our Glorious Leader, but being an honest sort I am equally unafraid to point out his flaws, with all the expert knowledge of a seasoned armchair critic. And chief amongst these is his typical inability to affect a game in good time. Throw a mid-game crisis Poch’s way and his tendency is to wait until the clock ticks beyond 80+ before swapping a full-back, and maybe throwing on Llorente for injury-time. Hardly the zenith of innovation (and a textbook from which Gareth Southgate appears similarly to operate).

On Saturday however, Pochettino was flinging around game-changing inputs like a chap with a sports almanac in one hand and the keys to a DeLorean in the other. With Fulham level and threatening to lead, Dier was hooked, the back-three dispensed with and a diamond introduced, with Dembele at its base. The balance of power gradually eased back our way, and an admiring glass could be raised in the direction of the grand fromage.

Lamela’s introduction followed soon after, and again the impact was pretty prompt. Lamela did what I had rather expected Lucas to do, and hared straight through the middle, to set up Kane.

There was even time to re-introduce young Master Winks from the bench, giving us what might be our last ever glimpse of the Winks-Dembele midfield axis, for around 45 glorious seconds.

All told, it was a smart few minutes between the Pochettino ears, and having buried the chap often enough on these grounds it is only right to praise him now.

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

Newcastle 1-2 Spurs: Five Lilywhite Observations

1. A Result to Remember Come May ‘19

The pedant may mutter that it was a mite reckless to use up an entire season’s worth of good fortune in the opening game; and the purist may well grumble that this fare will have few at the top table quivering in their boots; but given the circumstances this win was pretty valuable stuff, two bonus points for May ‘19.

With United already having won, City likely to set off like a train and Liverpool fans rather unusually suggesting that this might actually be their year, the last thing we needed was to fall off the pace with a stodgy result in our opener.

Moreover, half of our heroes arrived at the ground still wearing flip-flops and smeared in Factor 30, their post-World Cup jollies having been rather rudely interrupted by the day-job. For before you could say “How terrific that nine of our players feature in the World Cup Semi-Finals!” the realisation dawned that those same nine would be in no fit state for a full 90 minutes huff and puff come mid-August.

And on this front the doom-mongers had a point. Aside from some sporadic passages of possession, there was little to suggest that our lot were anything more than half-cooked. Blameless enough, given the circumstances, but most assuredly not the stuff of which dreams are made. In possession we were pretty slack, misplacing passes rather casually, and for various nerve-shredding periods when not in possession we were teetering on the edge of last-ditch defending. It all looked decidedly wobbly as the clock ticked down – making this every bit more a win to cherish.

(A word of consolation towards our vanquished hosts –which I’m sure will mean the world to them – for having rattled the woodwork twice, missed some eminently presentable one-on-ones and conceded a goal by a matter of literally millimetres, they are presumably wondering what more they needed to do to earn a point. Conversely, we did not so much flirt with Lady Luck as whisk her away for a no-expenses spared weekend of her life in some exotic location.)

2. Vertonghen Gets The AANP Nod

The fellows who know these things awarded the Man of the Match brick to Dele Alli, and the eagle-eyed will follow the logic of that one, young Dele having delivered the coup de grâce, channelled his inner Platt/Scholes/Lampard for various bursts from deep and also embellished proceedings with a quite marvellous passive nutmeg of Yedlin. So far, so Man of the Match.

That said, however, the AANP vote went to Jan Vertonghen. Much of the game was played on the back foot, and Vertonghen needed his wits about him a few times to intercept passes of the more cunning variety, as well as doing a spot of good, honest out-muscling.

On top of which, he poached the opening goal, with an opportunism that seemed to fly completely under the radar of the bods paid to commentate on such matters.

The perplexing status of Toby (on the payroll yet regarded with that same disgust one normally reserves for those who grab axe and go on rampage) and the occasional youthful indiscretion of Sanchez (guilty of daydreaming while the Newcastle egg wandered in behind to score) means that Vertonghen is very much the robust sort of block upon which a heck of a lot ought to be built.

3. The Rest of the Post-World Cup Mob: Trippier, Lloris, Kane, Dembele

The AANP eye was keenly trained upon those of World Cup Semi-Final ilk. As noted, Dele pottered around usefully and Vertonghen was obliged to tick boxes left, right and centre.

Our glorious leader, recognising that Kieran Trippier has taken his rightful spot alongside Mbappe, Modric et al as one of the stars of the global game, evidently felt that St James’ Park is beneath Kieran Trippier. And quite rightly so. It meant that the marvellous young fish was spared the indignity of Newcastle away.

Monsieur Lloris, our resident World Cup-winning captain, was mercifully spared the torture of having to handle too many back-passes. He stuck gamely to the essentials of the thing – catching and punching like a man who emerged from the womb in such fashion – and his dive at the feet of Kenedy in the second half may well have earned us two points, so a great big “Très bien” against his name.

As for our resident World Cup Golden Boot-winner, this was one of those outings pretty heavy on perspiration but with little to blow up anyone’s skirt. For a chap who’s a proven dab-hand at goalscoring he was forced to spend a lot of his working day ploughing that furrow that spans around ten yards either side of the halfway line. A dashed good job he did of it too, shielding the ball and laying things off as we all know he can do. Nearer the goal, however, his mechanics were not quite right, the rather worrying truth being that he looked like a man in need of a rest. Little chance he’ll get one mind, until, perhaps, Summer 2019.

And finally, a few adoring words for Mousa Dembele. By all accounts the Dembele limbs have handed in their notice, and the chap is not much longer for this sceptre isle – but cometh the nervous final fifteen minutes, cometh one heck of a cameo.

A common concern from AANP Towers during the Pochettino Years has been our lack of an experience head amongst the frivolous youths, to help see out games. Yesterday, Dembele filled that void with aplomb, fulfilling very duty laid out in the Job Spec. Strength to hold off all-comers, technique to protect the ball like a newborn – nothing we haven’t seen before of course, but massively effective, and alongside the yellow-carded Dier and earnest-but-average Sissoko he played a pretty prominent role in steering the good ship Hotspur to port.

4. Sissoko and Aurier – Plus ça Change

Much has been made of the fact that the status quo has been maintained when it comes to playing personnel, and accordingly, with a rather damning inevitability, on the opening day of the season we were treated to the sight of Messieurs Sissoko and Aurier weaving their own unique brand of wizardry on the right flank.

Sissoko is certainly an earnest chappie, and rather brings to mind the old cricketing mantra that nobody drops a catch on purpose. Time after time his forward passes seemed perfectly well-intentioned but just didn’t quite hit their mark.

To his credit, his sideways and backwards stuff admirably evaded danger, and on one or two occasions he also used his brute force to good effect, in winning possession. A thought occasionally springs to the AANP mind that the blighter might be better employed as a centre-back, but that’s more one for idle dinner-party conversation. Sissoko is here to stay, since, as the official party line so correctly indicates, there is nobody available who might improve our starting eleven…

Meanwhile there was something strangely comforting in seeing Aurier ceding possession and letting onrushing attackers glide past him unnoticed. That old feeling of familiarity returned, like a beloved friend not encountered for some time.

And then, to give the blighter his undoubted due, he delivered the cross of the season to date, an absolute peach, the like of which mini-Auriers will whisper of in hushed and wide-eyed tones for generations to come. It would have been rude of Dele to miss.

5. Frustrations of Lucas & Son

I don’t mind admitting that the AANP pulse quickened pleasingly at the sight of Lucas’ name on the teamsheet, and when the chap took an early opportunity to tear at the Newcastle defence I positively squawked my approval.

That, alas, was about as good as it got in Moura Towers, because the chap did little more than flit around the periphery thereafter. I suppose his crack legal team will have a pretty lengthy defence prepared for him along the lines of the fact that if he is not given the ball he can hardly be expected to race around with the dashed thing, and one would see their point. Nevertheless, I am inclined to politely clear the throat and mention that he might have done a little more in the line of scavenging himself.

One suspects that at some point he will deliver an absolutely blistering performance, running rings around just about everyone in the vicinity, scoring two and making a few more – but today was not that day.

And finally, young Sonny. Given the much-vaunted lack of preparation of Dele and Kane, and the fact that Son himself imminently has to do the honourable thing for his country, I was jolly taken aback to see the chap withheld from proceedings both at the outset and later on. Once introduced he tore around as if his coiled spring had just been released, so it was a shame we had to wait so long, and odd that we did not utilise him while we could.

Still, those called upon just about did what was necessary, and given how easy it would have been for all concerned to have made excuses if we did not stagger over the line this is a win to be lauded.

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

West Brom 0-1 Spurs: Four Tottenham Observations

1. Not The Abysmal Showing I’d Been Promised

A confession of sorts to begin with, as it’s generally best to air these things at the outset – I did not view the game live, so by the time the telly-box re-ran the binge in its entirety I was already well aware of the outcome.

The reports I received gave the impression that it was one of those catastrophic affairs, in which the undead roam the streets, cars and buildings are set alight and humanity is generally going to pot. I braced myself accordingly, poured a more generous than normal dram of the good stuff and settled in.

And was pleasantly surprised. I hesitate to say it, as one prefers not to incur the wrath of one’s public, but I thought we started fairly healthily. Admittedly every set-piece swung into our area caused absurd levels of panic, but those were pretty rare as we cunningly hogged possession. Moreover this was not one of those turgid affairs in which the ball is monotonously shuttled sideways, and all and sundry stick rigidly to their place of dwelling, offering no movement.

Au contraire, there was decent movement and the ball was accordingly shoved around pretty nippily, as well as the usual work-rate that ensured we tended to win back the ball before most of the dignitaries had registered that it had gone. Toby was back in the fold, and wasted little time in pinging his diagonals, while the back-three allowed both Vertonghen to sneak into midfield and the wing-backs to set up camp well over halfway.

We made some respectable chances too – both Kane and Lamela were clean through, and Wanyama’s effort drew a save. Frankly, had I not been oddly blessed with the benefit of hindsight I would have suggested that while no classic, we seemed to be peddling our wares in honest fashion.

2. Short Corners

I appreciate that our Glorious Leader would have taken one look at the opposition teamsheet and decided that the aerial route was strictly for extreme circumstances only, but nevertheless the relentless barrage of comically inept short-corner routines that we delivered throughout did rather make one scratch the head.

There was one glorious throwback to the Anderton-Sheringham era, when Eriksen swept in a low corner and Kane swung a boot at the near post.

That aside one received the impression that precisely nobody involved in these little scenes had remembered their lines. It was questionable whether any of them had been rehearsed at all, as nobody seemed quite sure what was supposed to happen, and between two or three men in lilywhite they contrived to oversee an elaborate process of funnelling the ball back towards halfway, or allowing the ball to trickle apologetically out of play. A little more training ground time appears in order.

3. Toby and Danny Rose

Why these two were suddenly included yesterday, having been pretty unsubtly sidelined for months, is anyone’s guess.

Maybe Poch is keen to remind potential suitors of their value? Maybe he would like to see them sharpen up ahead of the World Cup? Maybe he simply puts all the squad numbers in a hat and picks them out at random?

Whatever the rationale, it was nice to see the pair back in lilywhite. Toby slotted in like he had never been away, and seemed to inspire Davinson Sanchez to similarly great heights. That said, the caveat should be added that this serenity applied only to open play, for set-pieces were an entirely different kettle of fish, with none of our lot looking remotely comfortable when peering upwards at the West Brom aerial barrage.

Danny Rose had a marvellous joust with the West Brom right-back Nyom, winning some and losing some but competing throughout like his life depended on it, which is not something that has ever been said of Ben Davies in the entirety of human history.

Rose’s push-and-shove with Nyom, who stood around two feet taller and three stone heavier, was possibly the highlight of the entire game, and although by the letter of the law Rose might have seen red for raising hand to face, the delayed and dramatic dive that followed from Nyom was good, wholesome comedy.

As with Kyle Walker back in yesteryear, Rose seems to be the sort of bean who cares deeply about his personal duels, and has more than a sprinkling of robustness in his DNA. Not the sort of character upon whom Spurs has traditionally built its reputation, and we will be weaker for his likely departure. Even if he did make quite the pig’s ear of his attempted clearance for the West Brom goal.

4. Lucas Moura’s Cameo

One presumes that next season Lucas Moura will be upgraded from Special Guest Star to Main Cast, because glimpses of him have been pretty fleeting since his January arrival, but generally worth the wait.

Yesterday was no exception, as he put his head down and made a beeline straight for the heart of the West Brom defence every time he received possession, drawing fouls and generally prompting our hosts to run scurry around in a bit of a tizz.

While Son, Lamela and Dele all have quick, jinking feet, none have Lucas’ capacity to run with the ball at pace. It nearly did the trick yesterday, despite limited air-time, and it would be good to see the young egg play a more prominent role in things when next season rumbles around.

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

Spurs 2-0 Watford: Four Tottenham Observations

Slightly stodgy stuff all round, but these routine 2-0 home wins are necessary fare. That I could only really muster three and a half observations tells its own slightly damning story really, what?

1. Lloris

Monsieur Lloris has found his head shoved in the stocks and pelted from several angles with fruit of questionable freshness in recent weeks, due to some fairly high-profile in-play choices made, but yesterday he was back doing the du pain et du beurre for which he earns the weekly packet, and it was a gentle reminder of why we fell in love with the chap in the first place.

There were three or four saves that jolly well needed to be made, at least one of which was probably worth a goal. The hecklers will no doubt mutter that extending a palm here and leaping horizontally there hardly makes up for the wild flaps and ill-judged lunges of recent weeks, but this at least was one for the credit rather than debit column.

2. Trippier – The Least Average

This was pretty perfunctory stuff from our heroes, a bit like watching a factory machine whirr, hum and dutifully churn out goods. Amidst this slew of 6 out of 10 performances I am willing to propose that young Master Trippier puffed out his chest just a little further than most.

This was not the second coming of Pele by any means, but the young nib beavered away pretty tirelessly throughout. He generally kept the back-door locked as necessary, but more eye-catchingly, at the faintest whiff of action in the Watford half he was disappearing over halfway in a puff of smoke.

In contrast to the oddly anonymous Davies on the other side of the land, Trippier was a pretty constant outlet on the right, and generally seemed to be in and around the vicinity whenever any mischief was perpetuated. Took one or two kicks to the shins and whatnot as well, and bounced back without too many tears, which is always pleasing to observe.

While his crosses did not always hit the mark, he did at least sling a merry half dozen into useful areas, and also assisted Kane for our second. Add that to the fact that he simply isn’t Serge Aurier and this was a pretty useful contribution from the well-inked scamp.

3. Vertonghen, Relatively Unsung Hero

My public may be unaware that Jan Vertonghen and I are practically bosom buddies these days, our paths having crossed on a pet project around Christmas, since when he has always meant to message me before, during and after each game, but presumably has never quite found the time.

When his heart skipped a beat at being named in the PFA Team of the Year, I’m pretty sure his first thought was to share his joy with his old mucker AANP – again, he just did not quite find the time, being an in-demand sort of egg.

It was an accolade well-deserved by my BFF, because while those around him might have whinged about their contracts, or thrown in occasional wobbly on-field moments, Jan (I’d like to think we’ll be on first-name terms) has generally mopped up with minimal fuss, and taken every opportunity going to bring the ball out of defence like a modern-day Beckenbauer.

That the chap has not scored for Spurs in several years is pretty mind-boggling, as he’s up for every set-piece and has decent enough technique. Last night he had a couple of six-yard thrashes in the first half, and then nodded one against the upright, which seemed pretty rotten luck (although as my old man, AANP Senior is perennially fond of piping up, one only deserves credit for hitting the post if aiming for it, which rather makes a point).

For good measure, and seemingly on something of a personal vendetta against the Watford goal, he then went charging forward late on and showed pretty immaculate control to pluck the ball out of the air and lay it off for Kane’s offside ‘goal’. The poor blighter may not have got his goal, but he deserves credit for a season’s worth of pretty topping performances, and when he does eventually get in touch I’ll be sure to mention it.

3.5: Substitute Cameos

I rather enjoyed the little cameo off the bench from Lamela, full of unnecessary stepovers and whatnot. He has a delightfully languid air about him at times, as if determined to give the impression that this football lark is simply too easy for him, and simply being summoned to perform is beneath him. One or two Gallic types of yesteryear would not with approval that sort of arrogance. If he could just add the occasional end-product he would be one heck of a player.

There was also a rare sighting of Sissoko, who promptly bundled over someone illegally and then blazed over when clean through from inside the area. It was all rather comforting to behold, in a plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose sort of way.

With three clones of this fixture to come, we just need to wrap up the Top Four spot and give Kane a leg-up to the Golden Boot, before preparing for Russia.

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

Brighton 1-1 Spurs: Four Tottenham Observations

Hmm, difficult to know what to make of that one, what? A bit of a struggle to find the delicate phrase that sums it all up. Not that my old man, AANP Senior, had much trouble, mind. “Rubbish,” was his pithy assessment as the bell sounded, and I suppose it’s hard to disagree.

1. The Central Midfield

Being an enlightened sort, who is all for a new wheeze once in a while, I have no problem with the modern concept of ‘change’. A spot of invention is as likely to do good as harm, so if some old bean wants to wheel out a new idea every once in a while it’s fine by me.

However, there is a limit to these things, so when Our Glorious Leader instructed Dembele to put his feet up, and unveiled Messrs Sissoko and Wanyama as his midfield axis of choice, the AANP blood did freeze over a mite.

No doubt both are good, honest chaps, and when it comes to destruction, Victor Wanyama struts around like a bloke who has a diploma in the field. Present him with a slick-passing outfit like Real Madrid, and the chap will likely prowl around like a bulldog scenting blood.

As for Sissoko – well, two years on it is still a little difficult to ascertain quite what benefit he brings to any situation conceivable, but the hound does have an engine on him, even if the connection between feet and brain has something of the Russian Roulette about it.

However, whatever argument one pitches in favour of these two young fish, one cannot look one’s neighbour in the eye and honestly opine that between them they are possessed of the guile and finesse required to unpick a well-organised couple of banks of four. Last night required our central midfield to spot a cute pass and deliver it in nary the blink of any eye. Alas, Wanyama and Sissoko spend that much time bringing the dashed thing under control and carefully laying out all their optins that dew began to settle on the turf around them.

To his credit, Wanyama at least used his destructive capabilities for good, in harassing the Brighton chappie into conceding possession to Son, who created our opener. But by and large, the deep-lying well of creativity was dry as a bone until Dembele lumbered on and began effortlessly rolling past approaching bodies.

2. Full-Backs And The Class Of ‘16/17

Cast your minds back twelve months or so, and you may recall that the Premier League was not quite the one-horse procession of 2018, and the good ship Hotspur was in fact making a dashed good fist of things. All-singing, all-dancing, golden boot-wearing and whatnot. But perhaps key to all this was the quality of our full-backs. Perhaps not, as the counter-argument might go, but still – perhaps.

Danny Rose on one side and Kyle Walker on the left were at the peak of their powers, combining the pace and attacking width of wingers with the pace and defensive upper-body strength of full-backs. Acting as all-rounders in the team, this indefatigable pair sneakily gave us the advantage of effectively having two extra sets of legs on the pitch.

In a team riddled with key personnel, a pretty convincing case could be made for those two being the most important of the lot. Fast forward to the present day and it’s fair to say our tails are not waggling with quite so much aplomb.

Each member of the current gaggle does brim with energy, and they are generally decent wide outlets, ever willing to go flying up the flank in search of glory. But this does not count for much if they consistently peddle utter rot once they get there, no?

To his credit, Trippier does a fairly nifty line in cushion-volleyed-first-time passes (the specimen that set up Dele Alli vs Real makes for a decent Exhibit A), but in general this lot seem to be of the ‘Close Your Eyes And Swing Your Boot’ School of Crossing, with the ball as likely to fly into orbit as it is to bend into a usefully chaotic area.

On top of which, the inclusion of Serge Aurier on matchday is essentially equivalent to conceding a goal start to the opposition, the chap delivering calamitous interventions like a seasoned pro. Yesterday, naturally was an opportunity for him to showcase his imbecilic rot, and he didn’t disappoint, while on t’other side Ben Davies delivered his usual slew of utterly average crosses. It makes the soul droop, it really does.

3. Toby Alderweireld

Might this prove the last appearance in lilywhite of Toby Alderweireld? Quite possibly.

One ought not to quibble with Daniel Levy and his careful management of every last penny, but it does seem a dashed shame that when we hit upon a world class egg like Alderweireld, a reason is promptly dug up to kick the chap off the premises and make clear to him that he is no longer welcome to break bread with us.

Davinson Sanchez is a hearty young buck, and in time might well become one of the best of the lot, but at present he still gets his head in an occasional tizz and blurts out the wrong lines. Toby, by contrast, is near faultless, and together with Vertonghen they form quite the bedrock. But what is one to do?

4. Harry Kane’s Fitness

I asked after Saturday’s defeat, and in that keen analytical way of mine, I’ll ask again now – is the blighter fully fit? There seems to be a slightl sluggishness about the fellow ever since his return, as if he is approaching the latter stages of a particularly gruelling cross-country trek and, all things being equal, would not say no to a cup of tea and a roaring fire.

Not a bad call from Senor Poch mind, to pull him back into the Number 10 role in the second half, as it at least meant that the young bean got to see a little of the ball. It still came to naught, but at least reacquainted him with his erstwhile spherical chum.

I do rather hope that the spring returns to his step fairly sharp-ish. We may well have fourth spot just about in the bag, but to put it bluntly an FA Cup win would be a darned sight easier if Harry Kane were donning a cape and leading opposing defenders a merry dance.

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

Spurs 1-3 Man City: Five Tottenham Observations

1. Off-The-Ball Struggles

I don’t think I’d be deceiving my public in suggesting that that was right up there with the more underwhelming nights in recent memory. Admittedly few of us would have had particularly wild expectations, but City’s recent form was enough to have some of us glancing surreptitiously at one another and whispering “What ho?” with a mischievous smile and a knowing wink or two.

But any such inclings of unlikely glory were given a damn good kicking in that opening half hour. I had, reasonably enough, hoped that we might have taken the game to our visitors and got stuck in at them from the off, to test their mettle so to speak.

Whether that approach might have worked we will never know, because they zapped the ball around as if it were a beam of light, and none of our lot touched the dashed thing until we were two down.

We were not undone by any moments of individual brilliance as much as a bit of a tactical shoeing, as the City chappies oozed from one position to another, and collectively from one formation to another, all of which made our brains melt. Our off-the-ball approach, so often something of a nifty secret weapon, was reduced to the rather depressing sight of simply pattering around a couple of yards behind play, desperately wanting to pause for breath and clarify north from south.

2. Dembele – Genius With A Potential Flaw

I suspect the weekly adoration of Dembele might become a little wearisome to the unconverted, but in this parish it continues like nobody’s business. To say that the chap is merely a “dribbler” is a bit like saying that Grace Kelly or some other such Hollywood siren is “rather a looker” – that is, while true enough per se, it doesn’t really begin to do justice the manifold talents on show.

I can honestly say I have never set eyes upon another soul who gildes past opponents as well as our man. And without wanting to labour the point, it is not as if he throws in an array of befuddling stepovers and party-tricks either. The chap can seemingly send two or three opponents spiralling off in the wrong direction simply by means of a shoulder-dip, some pretty magnetic close control and the body strength of one of the more Herculean bulls going around.

All of which is topping stuff, and has the locals bursting into applause on a regular basis. Look closely enough at the fledgling stages of any Tottenham attack and as often as not you’ll find Dembele’s fingerprints riddling the thing.

However, when we are not in possession – as happened for great swathes of the match yesterday – Dembele’s star burns a little less brightly. The chap is not really blessed with the indefatigable energy reserves of many of his lilywhite chums, and in truth his principle means of terminating an opposing attack tends to be the slightly unrefined Cynical Haul of the Shoulders.

Now personally I am of the opinion that Dembele’s value on the ball pretty much excuses his failings as a defensive midfielder when not in possession, but it is a thought worth chewing over. To pad out the point, a general inability to affect things when not in possession is my principle reason for arguing against the inclusion of First-Rate Rotter Jack Wilshere in the England team.

3. Kane – Fully Fit?

Given the moral outrage generated this week by the public declaration of a striker that he wanted to score goals, I was under the impression that Harry Kane would only ever touch the ball to shoot or tee himself up for a shot. Picture my surprise then, when he found himself around the edge of the area and opted to slide a pass in for Eriksen (to do what Sonny never would, and go flying in amongst the limbs to score), rather than blast the thing goalwards himself.

That, alas, was about as fruity as the participation got for our golden boy. Had I noticed him at any other point in the game I would have observed that he was pretty anonymous, which makes one think.

As someone with zero medical knowledge I don’t mind opining that the young bean did not look fully fit, from my vantage point. Where previously he would dash down the channels like some buccaneering hero, or drop deep to shield the ball and spray to onrushing chums, yesterday there was something of the amble about his gait.

No doubt he sweated a good honest gallon or so of the honest stuff, but he barely got anywhere near the ball throughout. (Not that much can really be done if he is indeed lacking match practise, other than giving him more matches.)

4. Upbeat Stuff From Lucas

By contrast, Lucas Moura set about the thing with all manner of vim and gusto once introduced.

There is, I suppose, the eternal pessimist’s concern that the blighter might be all flash and glitz and whatnot, and no actual end-product – presumably Time, as she often does, will have the final say on that one.

But for now, or, more accurately, then, Lucas’ quick feet and general impression of an eel of the particularly slippery variety quickened the pulse in a most welcome manner. One imagines that tiring defenders would groan and curse at the introduction of such a rascal, and I for one hope that he upgrades from cameo roles sooner rather than later.

5. Another Day, Another Lloris Clanger

What the dickens is up with the chap? His errors of judgement are becoming so regular and costly that somebody somewhere will soon write a strongly-worded letter about it to the one of the big cheeses.

Admittedly the foul was outside the area – but, by heck, what a foul! He could not have been less subtle if he had set off from his line with an axe slung over his shoulder and brandishing a sign that read “Regardez! I’m looking for a striker to upend.” Not the sort of thing for which he earns the weekly envelope, I’m pretty damned sure.

Watching the ghastly scene unfold did make me pause and stroke the chin, and wonder what had become of those halcyon days in which Lloris played as a genuine “Sweeper Keeper”, to coin a phrase. Back then, it was as common a sight as a singing lark to see the young egg haring fully thirty yards from his goal to triumphantly intercept an opposition pass and boot it roughly back when it came.

Such interventions would be jolly useful in season 2017/18, given that our eye-wateringly high defensive line often begins business up around the halfway line, but Lloris seems to have decided that racing off his line to help out his back four is now strictly for nostalgic reminiscence only.

So we are left with a defeat that we suspected might come our way, and which does not do much damage to our Top Four push – but finishing third has now become a mite trickier, which bothers me a tad, given that 4th spot would presumably mean a CL play-off during post-World Cup season. The brow furrows.

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

Stoke 1-2 Spurs: Four Tottenham Observations

1. Another Lovely Dembele Day

A bad day for fans of the black and white portrayals of teams as either World-Beaters or Abject Failures, as we pretty neatly straddled the middle ground between those two throughout. It would be a defamation of character to suggest that our heroes were bereft of ideas, but neither was this the electric, pacey, one-touch stuff that makes hearts race and impressionable types swoon.

Not enough of the first-time passing and little dinks around the corner from my vantage point, which I suppose was partly due to the pressing game Stoke employed, but the front four still sprinkled in a enough neat and tidy combos to keep our hosts honest.

Naturally enough, much of what was good came from the deific feet of Mousa Dembele, who these days seems to play a completely different game to the average mortal. While everyone else in the stadium had to negotiate the movement from Point A to Point B through the traditional medium of getting their little legs working like the clappers, Dembele glided across the turf looking for all the world like he was rolling along on a set of wheels.

Watching Stoke players lunging at him in uncouth manner brought to mind a simple-headed hound trying to catch its own tail, as our man neatly swerved this way and pirouetted that.

In a first half in which we dominated possession but created only the one clear chance (Sonny really ought to have scored, but he did at least hit the target) Dembele’s silky movement was a pleasant distraction. Given his rotten luck with injuries historically we should probably all count ourselves lucky that we’re being treated to his masterclasses on a weekly basis at the moment – who knows how often this will happen again?

2. Eriksen’s Eye For Goal

Christian Eriksen is another whose tail has most definitely been up in recent weeks. While full-backs may come and go, Dier and Wanyama seem to be slugging it out for a single spot, and any two from three could be picked in the roving attacking roles, Eriksen, like Dembele, is a pretty vital cog in the machinery.

Stoke are evidently fans of the young nib, as they couldn’t go five minutes without conceding a free-kick just to see him peddle his wares once again. One imagines that the manner in which he whips in those deliveries will give the young folk nightmares, because as an opposing defender there is not a lot that can be done beyond closing one’s eyes, sticking out one’s neck and muttering a Hail Mary or two.

Where Dembele slinks past folk, Eriksen is more the sort to pick a pass, but no doubt about it, his recent successes have given him a taste for goal. Once upon a time Eriksen might have modestly deferred saying “Boo” or any other sort of introductory salutation to a passing goose, but the recent goal glut has given him the confidence now to ping in shots from anywhere south of 25 yards.

Oddly enough, neither of his goals yesterday actually came from that sort of approach to life, but his ability to strike gold from distance adds a pretty useful string to our attacking bow.

3. Dele’s Decision-Making

After seven years – or near enough – of famine, Dele seems to be enjoying something of a purple patch. His goals last week were triumphs for technique and presence of mind, and he was at it again yesterday.

Naturally enough, being the armchair genius that I am, when the young imp was through yesterday and opted against feeding Harry Kane, I took the opportunity to launch into a fairly fruity tirade against his choice of action, the gist of which was that he was a wretch of the highest order, who was spurning opportunities like nobody’s business.

No doubt should our paths ever cross Dele will gleefully recount exactly how events transpired, and who could blame him if he were to snigger at AANP’s expense, because the chap had a pretty nifty plan in his head, which involved pausing proceedings, using Kane by not using him (to borrow from Barry Davies) and languidly rolling the path into the nearest onrushing Dane as if it were a move they had been rehearsing for weeks.

It’s the sort of stuff those Mensa bods would lap up, and can be filed next to his drag-back for the second goal vs Chelsea last week in the compendium of Dele’s Cerebral Moments From Recent Times.

Contrast that with the Stoke forward in possession when they had a 4 vs 1 counter-attack in the dying seconds, who opted to tamely slip the ball to one of our defenders, and one starts to see the value in a chappie who can pick the right option when push comes to shove

4. Hugo’s Wobblies

Another day, another rather glaring error from Monsieur Lloris. A few more of these, and the neighbours might start to murmur.

On the bright side, these misguided flaps and clearances straight to opponents are the sort of basic errors that can, in theory, be ironed out via a stern talking to and a few hours practise in the back garden. That is to say, it’s not like we require Lloris to learn the art of leg-spin or speaking Mandarin or some such taxing task. Nope. Just the basics. Put another way, nobody really thinks that the chap is out of depth, or is some sort of mal-coordinated incompetent, merely that he has started to lose concentration.

The prosecution, however, might reasonably point out that it’s a bit like shrugging off as merely a lazy lapse of concentration an aeroplane pilot who is occasionally prone to gazing off into the mid-distance just as the landing gear is lowered and touchdown looms. In some jobs simply switching off for a few moments and doing something almightily fat-headed is not really an option. Not to be too hard on the honest fellow, but being a goalkeeper he really should know better.

When all is said and done, however, there are relatively few complaints from this quarter. At this stage of the season the mission priority is pretty much to make sure that we emerge from whichever hellhole with all limbs attached and the precious cargo of three points safely stowed away. In that sense this was an absolute roaring success, especially with Liverpool rather furtively dropping a couple of points elsewhere.

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

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