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Bournemouth 1-4 Spurs: Five Tottenham Observations

1. Reaction to Defeat

“The true test of a team is not how they celebrate victory, but how they react to defeat.”

I’d be deceiving my public if I claimed that line – paraphrased, don’t you know – as one of my own. In fact I’m not sure who said it, and frankly with gags like that, whoever did say it could hardly have been the life and soul of a Saturday night jaunt on the town, but whatever the chap’s personal flaws he certainly had a point when it came to football.

The mood at AANP Towers over the last few days since Juve has pretty much boasted all the joyous revelry of the wake of a fondly-remembered family pet. Morose, gloomy and pretty starkly lacking even a splash of the traditional joie de vivre. I imagine it has been the same in lilywhite households across the land too, so heavens knows how the players felt as they laced up the footwear and prepared for today’s skirmish.

Unsurprisingly, they began proceedings with the same moroseness and gloom with which I had become so familiar in recent days, and when Bournemouth hit the bar and then hit the net within the first five minutes, the reaction to Wednesday’s defeat appeared to be one of general listlessness. The omens, it is fair to say, were pretty negative.
Matters worsened when the poster boy limped off, so our heroes deserve enormous credit for snapping out of their hangovers and raising their level.

Undoubtedly the scoreline flattered us, but the win was richly deserved, and in truth having lamented our lack of midweek ruthlessness in front of goal like one of the miserable Greek poets who only ever bangs on about the bad things in life, I was buoyed like nobody’s business to see us bury our chances so efficiently today.

I had remarked on these very pages last time out that there was a danger of feeling sorry for ourselves and needlessly dropping points; thumping backslaps all round then, to the players for bouncing straight back.

2. Front Four

As mentioned, the rolling of the precious Kane ankle might have been the cue for a general waving off the white flag and a whole cacophony of wailing and gnashing of teeth, so it was good to see that instead our lot took the opportunity rather sneakily to showcase their talents. There was something of “The King is dead – I say, rather than lament the chap, we could go and make names for ourselves here” about it all.

The decision not to bring on Llorente was hardly surprising, as the old bean simply is not at the required quality notch, irrespective of his Rochdale hat-tricks and whatnot. Moreover, tactically I had feared that wheeling him out would have made us a little too one-dimensional. Firing everything at a static beanpole, if you get my drift, for Llorente’s assets cannot be truthfully said to include indefatigable energy levels.

Instead, Lamela skipped on, brash young buck that he is, Son moved upfront, and those two, along with Dele and Eriksen spent the following hour buzzing around all over the place. The loose plan was Son up top; but each of the aforementioned appeared to have been granted carte blanche when it came to whizzing hither and thither into each other’s nominal patch of turf, and with the full-backs providing width we had a decent attacking armoury, even sans Kane.

Admittedly the full-backs’ actual crosses nine times out of ten ranked under the Pretty Dashed Woeful column, but their very presence helped stretched things, and like a broken clock Serge Aurier took time out from foul-throwing and other general acts of imbecility to deliver a peach of a cross for young Dele’s goal.

3. Life Without Kane

Digressing from the 90 minutes in question, the likely absence of Kane for presumably 4-6 weeks can hardly be greeted with thunderous cheers of acclaim, but we have managed without him for such periods in recent seasons, and today did demonstrate that we have the personnel to at least maintain the sprightly style of play.

The presence of Lucas on the bench provides another option, as I suppose does Llorente, in his own loveable way, so I suspect we’ll muddle through. Mind you, the first hint of a below-par showing and the internet will presumably combust under the weight of rabid commentators insisting that we cannot cope without the chap.

Much rides on our next two encounters.

4. Son’s Miskicks

Having retreated into his shell somewhat during February, Son has responded as one would expect to the indignity of being sold from the AANP Fantasy Football Team. He now boasts a couple of fancy new party tricks in his repertoire, as well. The rounding-the-keeper gag never fails to impress onlookers, and it was entertaining to see him wave an arm at Lamela as part of the routine to deceive the Bournemouth custodian into thinking that he would square the ball. The scamp!

But as deception goes, he will have to go some distance to top his array of miskicks. First the scuff onto his standing foot vs Juve, and this week the thump into the turf to create a delicate loop over the goalkeeper.

It does all suggest that he ought to stop watching Sissoko for his footballing inspiration, but on a less facetious note the chap should be applauded for getting into the right positions, and if a slice of luck is shoved his way then few can begrudge him.

5. Eriksen

So the record books will record for posterity that Son scored twice, and decades down the line few will be the wiser as to the intricacies of the job, but one really had to watch matters unfold with one’s own two eyes to appreciate the role played by Christian Eriksen in all of this.

Unruffled and in control throughout, he was patient in his passing, always looking for the killer ball but more often than not simply nudging it more straightforwardly if the circumstances dictated it. Yet he just makes things tick, and when the opportunity arises will supplement things with an outrageously well-spotted and weighted through ball.

The pass to Kane (for the disallowed goal which brought about the injury) was one such example, and the pass to Son for his second, while being simpler, was still delivered to perfection. I can certainly imagine some amongst our number who would have made rather a pig’s ear of that one.

Also worth noting the energy the chap displays week in, week out. Not for the first time he could be seen leading the chase when Bournemouth countered, shepherding the ball out for goal-kicks of all things.

So a particularly knowing tip of the cap to Eriksen, but it’s high-fives and elaborate handshakes all round, for this might have been the moment when our season started to unravel. Not a bit of it.

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

Palace 0-1 Spurs: Five THFC Observations

1. Lackadaisical From Top To Bottom

The quickest route from A to B, so the boffins used to instruct me, is in a straight line, which seems a reasonable enough way of approaching that particular conundrum; but if you are a member of the good ship Hotspur it pretty much is a condition of employment these days that anything resembling a straight line gets tossed out of the window, and the most convoluted and complicated way of doing things is instead selected. Be it Juve or Liverpool, or Newport or Rochdale, our lot have recently been quite taken by the idea of drawing out matters and increasing the tension minute by minute.

So, rather than scoring a couple of goals in the first ten minutes, as was briefly threatened, nerves were frayed, fingernails gnawed to bone and curses flung around like confetti, until the 89th minute for goodness sake.

Despite being utterly dominant from first bell to last, we managed also to be incredibly slack and error-strewn throughout. And whereas this is normally the cue to take a deep breath and launch into a tirade against Sissoko, today the culprits were the much-feted A-listers in our ranks, which makes the mind boggle a bit.

Eriksen and Dembele, upon whom one would normally bet one’s right arm to keep possession ticking over, kept gifting the ball to Palace as if they’d been practising it all week. Harry Kane, upon whom would happily wager the life of a less-cherished cousin to stick away a couple of six-yard chances, made rather a pig’s ear of his opportunities in the opening 88 minutes.

Just about everyone else in lilywhite was similarly careless (young Sanchez can maybe be exonerated). It was almost as if the collective attitude was a carefree shrug, and the general sentiment that “Accuracy doesn’t really matter, Kane will presumably pop up at the death and we’ll win anyway, what?”

2. Aurier Finding New Ways To Be A Liability

As mentioned, Sanchez got his lines right throughout, which is no mean feat when up against a robust soul like Benteke, and alongside him, while his distribution certainly veered towards the errant, Dier nailed the bread-and-butter of keeping Palace forwards at bay.

Come to think of it, Ben Davies also mixed rough with smooth in a passable sort of way. The chap’s crossing tends to have a success rate that lurks in 50-50 territory, but as the game wore and the second half became one-way traffic he at least had the good sense to set up camp well inside the Palace half and provide a left-flank option.

And on that note, of picking a respectable position and giving the opposition something about which to brood, one should probably give Serge Aurier his due; he was always available. Here at AANP Towers we also noticed Aurier execute an impeccably-timed sliding tackle to spare our blushes, which beforehand I would have ranked as about as likely as a flying dinosaur landing on the pitch, so it just goes to show.

But whereas Aurier is normally an absolute liability in defence, he picked today to demonstrate that when it comes to fouling things up in the most ghastly and imbecilic manner, he is as capable of demonstrating these abilities in attack. Taking multiple foul-throws is really the sort of rot for which a professional footballer ought to have a finger lopped off, as well as sacrificing his entire weekly packet. Just to hammer home the farcical nature of Life as Serge Aurier, the blighter then managed to miss an open goal from around three yards by treading on the ball or some such nonsense.

3. Dele Alli: Dives and Penalties

There was an unsightly moment midway through the second half when young Dele flung himself to ground over the onrushing goalkeeper, with not an opposition limb in sight.

I do not have much problem with he or anyone else rediscovering the joys of gravity if – and it’s rather a crucial if – an opponent has bludgeoned, belted or even gently brushed against him. After all, referees will not award a free-kick if a chap stays upright; and if contact is made with man rather than ball, then a jury has every right to convict.

As it happened, Dele might have had a penalty not long beforehand, when a Palace defender (van Aanholt?) tried to dispossess him with a fairly wild swing of his peg. But the dive over the goalkeeper was an attempt to cheat, and while he is unlikely to be shoved in a dungeon and have the key lobbed into a nearby moat, the young buck will hardly be able to complain if he is politely told to biff off and amuse himself in other ways for three games.

Aside from the charge sheet against Dele himself, it is probably worth pointing out that we had an absolutely nailed on penalty (the goalkeeper against Davies) turned down in the opening moments, for no discernible reason other than that goalkeepers are sometimes granted licence to clatter folk. Kane might also have had a penalty, on a technicality, but life sometimes gives us these crosses to bear.

4. Team Selection

While most of the game was spent huffing, puffing and misplacing, the choice of personnel at the outset did make me arch a quizzical eyebrow or two.

The absence of Vertonghen was fair enough – a man is allowed to be injured every now and then – but while the same can officially be said of Alderweireld, it seems that the latter’s days in lilywhite might be numbered, which is a dashed shame.

Now I don’t really know the ins and outs of these contract negotiations, and while I would love to imagine that it is simply two men sitting opposite each other and shouting numbers back and forth, I suspect the truth is a little more complex; but could we not just find a way to give the chap the dosh he wants, through bonuses or hidden treasure or whatever it is? Heck, and do the same for the rest of them, if it means parity of payment. Seems a tad simpler than trying to identify another world-class centre-back at a bargain price, but then I’ve always been pretty nifty at solving all of life’s problems from this particular armchair.

Getting back to the teamsheet, I had actually swallowed a gulp or two when I saw the back-four announced, neither Dier nor Aurier being exactly the most watertight in the business, but I need not really have worried on that front, as Palace struggled to get over the halfway line.

The demotion of Son made sense, as the chap has slightly gone off the boil in recent weeks, following his all-conquering winter spell, and Lamela has looked sharp. Given that, one wonders how long before Dele serves some time on the bench.

I had also hoped that Lucas Moura would produce a little more than he did when eventually introduced, but the chap’s engine barely started. Early days though.

5. A Triumph For Football

In truth, the whole affair was fairly forgettable, but having spent the entire game trying only to defend, it struck me as good for football, and mankind as a whole, that the ultra-defensive approach adopted by Palace was rewarded with concession of a last-minute goal. The moral of the story was that being defensive doesn’t pay, and I can’t think of a more noble message to send to the children.

Spurs 1-0 Arsenal: Four THFC Observations

1. Second Half Performances

I think any jury would agree that the first half was a fairly cagey affair. Not a million miles away from a game of chess I suppose, with one side nudging a pawn forward a step or two, and the other side dangling an experimental bishop to survey the battlefield. Their lot were denied a chance by a pretty rotten call from the linesman; our heroes fashioned one that was a mite too high for the forehead of Kane; and at half-time the thing could hardly have been described as a pyrotechnic spectacular.

When the cast reassembled for the second forty-five however, a completely different kettle of fish was produced. En masse, our heroes went up a couple of gears, took the lead and but for some pretty wayward work in the Finishing-Touch department would have delivered an absolute thrashing.

I wonder if you happen to notice a trend in recent weeks? Against Man Utd, our heroes went at it hammer and tongs in the second half, leaving United to simply wilt away and give up the thing completely at around the hour mark. Then against Liverpool last week, following a fairly mediocre stab at the first 45, we overwhelmed them in the second half, restoring parity and looking odds on to wrap up matters until that slightly madcap final five minutes. And then yesterday, another run-of-the-mill first half was followed in the second by the most one-sided 1-0 hammering you will see.

The gist of the thing is that Pochettino’s current vintage are capable of producing the dickens of a second half performance when necessary. The energy levels shoot off the scale, and three of the best in the country have been utterly unable to live with us.

One might well want to pause on the general back-slapping and cork-popping to ask some pretty salient questions, such as why it takes us 45 minutes to reach these levels (to which the answer might be that the opposition themselves are pretty stoked in the first halves of these tete-a-tetes, but run out of steam while our lot go into overdrive in the second halves); and why we aren’t evidencing our dominance with a whole hatful of goals each time.

But on the back of seven points from these three crunch games, through the use of pretty much identical personnel, it would be miserly in the extreme to wag admonitory fingers and complain about one thing and another.

2. Off-The-Ball Press

Having the privilege of observing yesterday’s narrative unfold in the presence of an Arsenal-supporting chum, I noted that at several points he lamented the manner in which his team surrendered possession.

Well he might have complained, but one need not scratch too far beneath the surface to identify a critical cog in the whole Cause-and-Effect narrative on this point. For as befell United and Liverpool in recent weeks, this was not a case of Arsenal randomly falling apart, but of Tottenham hounding them down until they broke.

That horrible lot kept ceding possession primarily because they were subjected to levels of harassment, press and general bother that in other walks of life would border on the uncouth, if not the downright illegal.

Our mob, from front to back, are fast mastering the art of winning back possession high up the pitch, with all the relentless tenacity of a team of rabid dogs, and then haring off into attack once more. It is jolly impressive stuff, and neatly complements the variety and gusto with which we attack when actually in possession.

3. Missed Chances

For all the off-ball press and on-ball creativity, one could not help after a while glance at what was unfolding on the pitch, and then at the scoreboard, and then back to the pitch, with rather a furrowed brow. Dominate a team thusly and we should dashed well have a hatful of goals to show for it. Instead, we squandered chances with all the carefree abandon of a couple of young lambs gambolling in a field without a care in the world.

In a sense it did not seem to matter, for in a second-half that was simply a procession of Tottenham near-things, another gilt-edged opportunity was always just around the corner and the players on both sides knew it. But in another sense, the suspicion started to nag that our heroes were missing the point of the whole spectacle if they kept bypassing one chance, shrugging their shoulders and eagerly bobbing up and down in anticipation of the next one. The logic, I began to suspect, was flawed. There was a simpler way to go about this.

Kane (twice), Lamela (twice), Dele, Son and Trippier all made rather a pickle of eminently presentable opportunities, on top of which Eriksen’s free-kick would have hit the top corner but for a timely paw from Cech.

And as has been well documented, we were jolly well nearly made to pay, which would have made the whole game seem like an act of the basest treachery. The moral of the story seems to be to score and score again, and then once more for luck, when the opportunities arise; but these young folk do like to do things their own way.

4. Dembele, Yet Again

After a collective effort like that, and particularly having just penned reams and reams about the team’s off-the-ball work en masse, it does seem rather a disservice to the majority to single out one or two for particular approval. I imagine the legal bods representing Messrs Kane and Eriksen, for example, might raise an eyebrow and have the headed notepaper at the ready on hearing that praise is being lavished elsewhere. Nevertheless, Mousa Dembele continues to deliver absolute tour de force performances.

If the common denominators across these three distinguished results has been our second half performances, the man at the hub of those second halves has been Dembele.

I suppose in this age of shiny statistics the casual passer-by might poke his head in and wonder what the fuss is about, because the old sport rarely scores or sets up goals. But by golly he makes the world a brighter place, and manages to make the hurly-burly of crunch Top Six games look about as serene and effortless a breeze as simply floating down a river in a paddle-boat with a newspaper over one’s head.

You know the drill – power, control, and a unique ability to retain possession even when baying hordes pursue him at every turn. Injuries never seem far away, poor chap, but when he is in this sort of form he simply purrs, which rather makes me purr, and after a while all there is is Dembele gliding away from people and a heck of a lot of purring.

Whether he will be in any shape to dust himself down and go again on Tuesday in Turin is debatable, but his absence on that stage would be a shame, both aesthetically and in terms of the nuts and bolts of winning the game. We shall see.

Liverpool 2-2 Spurs: Six THFC Observations

As just about every living soul on the planet has immersed themselves in the rights and wrongs of the various decisions in those final ten minutes, I might incline the bean towards the various other goings-on.

1. Lloris Playing From The Back

Starting at the beginning, I think the shrewder observers amongst us would have been bang on the money in identifying that, in the first half, all was not well on the domestic front.

For a start, one imagines that unless Pochettino had been in a particularly eccentric mood, “Concede an early goal” would have been nowhere near the top of the to-do list, yet our lot couldn’t facilitate this fast enough, what with Sanchez spinning around like a dog incensed by its own tail, Dier slotting obliging passes to the opposition and Lloris prostrating himself about an hour too early as Salah approached.

So, two minutes in, and things were already squiffy. What then transpired was a farce not seen since the circus act away to Manchester City, as Monsieur Lloris went through the list of his less impressive attributes, picked the very worst one of the lot, and spent the rest of the half showcasing it.

The chap’s distribution is dreadful, with the ultimate destination of the ball often a complete lottery. Poor old Sanchez and Vertonghen had evidently been roped into this little charade against their will, and had their work cut out just keeping the dashed thing in play, as Lloris picked the worst possible time to indulge in his own warped little game of Fetch.

On top of which, even if his distribution were on a par with that of Pele himself, the whole ruse of zipping the ball to the centre-backs when pinned up against their own corner flags was about as ill thought-through as it gets. There was zero element of surprise, which meant that the nearest Liverpool player simply waddled up to the man, and immediately we were under pressure. The ball was desperately hacked to halfway, or less, and came straight back at us.

Honestly, my eyes bled just watching it, don’t you know. And we had got into exactly the same mess against City a few months back. Honestly, is this the grand plan for outfoxing Top Six opponents away from home? Literally backing ourselves into a corner? Heavens above.

2. First Half Possession

All that said, the first half struck me as a geographical game of two halves, if you follow me. What I’m getting at, is that inside our own half of the pitch, our heroes resembled the passengers on the Titanic after things turned sour. General panic and a distinct lack of clarity seemed about the sum of things, and Liverpool accordingly looked like scoring every time they breezed forward.

But once we passed the halfway line, I actually thought we looked rather nifty. Now I realise that this is the sort of statement that will have me pelted with rotten fruit and then trussed up in the nearest strait jacket and hurled into a small white room, as public opinion seems fairly firmly signed up to the manifesto that we were utter rot in the first 45.

But having seen us labour so excruciatingly in various games this season, when we have hopelessly passed the ball sideways and shown zero off-the-ball movement, I was pretty enthused by how we set about things when we got into the Liverpool half. Admittedly we fell short at the final hurdle, in that we created only the one real chance, for Son – and I admit some might point to that as evidence of a fairly crucial flaw in the plan. However, I nevertheless thought we pinged the ball around neatly, and on several occasions came within but one stretched Liverpool leg of being through on goal.

3. Dembele in Possession

Central to this was the surging of Dembele, from halfway. The chap simply glided straight through the middle, bypassing two or three foes at a time, and apparently was fouled for his troubles five times in the first half alone.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record about the blighter, it’s the same package he delivers with regularity – strength of an ox, grace of a ballerina. His defensive abilities have dipped to the level of simply hauling down whomever has the run on him, but when it comes to turning defence into attack, the chap is a marvel.

4. Dier Something of a Liability

Providing a neat symmetry to the quality of Dembele was the erratic offering from young Master Dier.

It’s not really black and white with this chap, because he has his qualities, and when he gets it right he looks quite the defensive giant. A well-timed Dier sliding challenge can put hair on a man’s chest, and if an opposing team politely enquires if anyone in lilywhite fancies a scrap, Dier will be one of the first to roll up his sleeves. I sometimes think the chap might feel more comfortable taking to the pitch with a giant club in his hands, or some similar bludgeoning instrument.

However, there is something about him that reminds one of a man running through quicksand, for blessed with a lightning quick turn of pace he is most definitely not. This particular crack tends to be papered over by planting him in midfield and closing one’s eyes tightly. Alas, there is no real escaping another fairly critical flaw in his DNA, which is that his ball distribution swings fairly wildly between passable-enough-old-sport and downright horrid.

The back-pass for Salah’s opener yesterday was the one that ended up in neon lights, but at various points the chap forgets to consult his compass and consequently pings the ball in whichever direction takes his fancy.

5. Sanchez

Perhaps it was the sight of Dier in front of him, struggling to align brain and feet, or maybe it was the constant threat of Lloris about to sell him out with another one of those calamitous short goal-kicks, but Sanchez looked like a man to whom shocked deer in headlights turn for modelling advice.

The poor egg has turned in some pretty robust showings in his half-season or so, but yesterday he looked utterly traumatised right from kick off.

Unable to cope with the movement of Liverpool, the trauma of it all fairly inevitably spread to his ball distribution, and we could all be pretty grateful that Jan Vertonghen alongside him had packed his A-game.

The second half withdrawal of Sanchez for Lamela had an obvious tactical glint to it, but nevertheless there was a whiff of euthanasia about the whole thing.

6. Cracking Second Half

Mercifully, things upped about a thousand notches in the second half, culminating in all manner of revelry in those moments before the final gong.

Liverpool ran out of energy pretty much as soon as the second half started, and our one-touch passing began to click like bally-oh. Dembele glided, Son and Dele did a roaring trade in neat first-time-flicks into space, and the full-backs looked at the patches of greenery ahead of them and thought “Wel,l why the devil not?”

I have read some column inches criticising Dele for his lack of input – or, I suppose, output – highlighting that his well of goals and assists is running dry. No arguing with the lies, damn lies and statistics I suppose, but aside from those numbers the chap appears to be rediscovering his joie de vivre, making the sort of runs from midfield that gets the masses chattering. One would hope that this will be the last we see of him hurling himself to terra firma as well.

A quick cap-doff to our glorious leader for making substitutions that pretty directly impacted the storyline, and to Kane for holding his nerve at the death.

As for the penalties, fouls, offsides and decisions – even those of fairly modest deductive capacity should be able to infer the side of the various fences on which I sit.

It was a rip-roaring spectacle, and although coronary failure is now a genuine risk at AANP Towers that our second half display giving some genuine cause for optimism. From two of these three crunch fixtures we now have a home win and away draw. Win at home to our dastardly neighbours and this will amount to a most satisfactory little jaunt.

Spurs 2-0 Man Utd: 5 THFC Observations

1. Perfect Performance, Tens All Round

Well that was an absolute tour de force. It was the sort of pristine performance that the critics shower with praise, and then proceeds to swipe every gong available at the glitzy award bash.

From the rip-snorting first minute to the olé-riddled final few swings, this was about as good it ever gets – and against a mob the statistics suggest know a thing or two about launching a pig’s bladder in between a couple of sticks.

It’s a pretty rare thing that every member of the squadron, to a man, gets an A+ on his report card, but by golly the stars aligned last night. It was ten out of ten stuff all round. Easy to forget, given the carefree manner in which we skipped over the line at 10pm, but Lloris had to make a couple of pretty nifty stretches this way and that in the early exchanges, as well as a smart parry from Lukaku in the second half.

Both centre-backs were on high alert, despite the two-goal cushion, and as if to prove the point each threw in a Moore-esque tackle or two just as the occasional United surge began to look ominous.

And so on. While it is difficult to measure these things objectively, any sound-minded observer would opine that our midfield comfortably had the breeze on theirs, whether it be in the sub-category of muscle, distribution or just haring around the place and rather rudely elbowing others out of the way.

On top of which, any member of our troupe who had the slightest attacking ability demonstrated the stuff in spades. There was an absolute whizz-bang about the quick passing, aided to no small extent by the near-manic off-the-ball movement, and the sum total of it all was a display that bordered on cruelty towards our guests.

2. And Mightily Impressive Off The Ball Too

For all the quick wit and flashing badinage that we displayed in attack, the race was probably won when our lot were not in possession, which I suppose sounds an odd concept, but you get the gist. Every time a United player had the ball he was accosted by a small army of lilywhites invading his personal space, which in some quarters would be considered the height of rudeness, but in this instance was met with absolute roars of approval from the adoring public.

Impressively, the work-rate amped up a few thousand notches in the second half. Instead of showing the slightest hint of fatigue, our heroes appeared to become increasingly rabid, haring after just about anything that moved.
Heaven knows how many Weetabix they each stuffed down their gullets beforehand, but it worked an absolute treat, because as well as the practical benefit of snuffing out United attacks and so forth, the whole exercise also brought about the gradual but immensely gratifying result that the United will to live simply seeped out of them and ceased to be by around the hour mark. That in itself is something about which our lot should trumpet at the next parish meeting.

3. Our Defensive High Line, And Coronary Issues

By the time the final gong sounded and carriages arrived the whole party had a marvellous emphatic ring to it, but in the first twenty or so it was not quite the serene breeze that eventually transpired.

Our early goal was all well and good, but on another day we might have been trailing before the clock had hit double digits, which would have been rather a biff to the solar plexus and left us reeling around like a young buck on his first trip to the pub.

The game was flung absolutely wide open in the first quarter, with both sides looking like they might score every time they attacked. “Barnstorming” might be the word. And, while it’s more of a mouthful, “Something of a dereliction of duty in midfield, old sport,” might also sum up things. Quite the spectacle for the unsuspecting passer-by, I suppose, but for the committed lilywhite the whole thing had us clenching fists in dread of what seemed about to transpire.

The high defensive line did little for the cardio mechanics of watching die-hards either, with United mercifully failing to pick the one weighted pass that would have torn down all the scenery.

And even when we rang them ragged in the second half, the nagging suspicion remained that one United goal would turn the game, if not on its head then at least at a 90 degree angle, which is all you really need to invite trouble these days.

Indeed, had you crept disturbingly close to AANP last night you might have heard the muttered refrain, repeated like some sort of fervent prayer, “Next goal wins”, because 2-0 did not appear a secure scoreline.
Utter rot, as it merrily transpired, but such is the lot of a Spurs fan.

4. A Good Night To Be Kieran Trippier

Singling out one individual for praise feels a bit like complimenting one blade of grass in a particularly lush meadow, but when circumstances are right AANP will swim against the tide, while waving a desultory hand at the naysayers, and as a result I invite Kieran Trippier to take a bow.

Now there’s no doubt that United’s slightly baffling left midfield tactic – of completely abandoning any defensive cover, and leaving Trippier to do as he pleased for 90 minutes – aided the chap, but nevertheless, history is littered with examples of horses being dragged to water and then not touching a drop of the stuff.

Trippier, however, did not need a second invitation. Instead, summoning the ghost of Kyle Walker, the chap hared down the right like it was going out of fashion, and then, as the young folk are wont to do, started exploring all manner of modern and new-fangled approaches, which led to him buccaneering straight down the centre at times, like some modern-day Gascoigne.

It was evidently something in the water, because Vertonghen and Sanchez also struggled to resist the urge, leaving me wondering what it was that prevented Lloris from dribbling beyond halfway and taking three or four United players out of the game en route.

Back to Trippier, and it was a job masterfully done. He was always the spare man, and the width he provided rather cunningly left the United defensive mob scratching their heads as to how to stop the supply chain coming straight down the centre as well as that offered out on the right.

On top of which, his cross for the own-goal was both high in quality and provider of cracking comedy, so well done him.

5. Points For Improvement? On A Night Like That?

In a season in which we have beaten Real Madrid and hammered Liverpool, the locals might stop and stare when I declare that this was our best performance yet. In my defence I would emphasisenthat I was particularly taken with how well we took to the thing both on and off the ball.

That said, there were still points to improve. Dembele bossed the midfield, and was absolutely untouchable in possession; so far, so uncontroversial. Again, United’s curious approach of affording him a running start of around 10 yards was hardly the likeliest means of stopping the chap, but nevertheless there are few players around these days who can so effortlessly protect possession simply because they decide it should be so.

However, his disturbing penchant for being rather slovenly in the tackle once more emerged. Rather than win the ball, these days he simply grabs an opponent by the shoulder before they can hare away from him and yanks them down. It earned him a yellow card fairly early in yesterday’s proceedings, and is inviting trouble more broadly.

Dele Alli also blotted an otherwise outstanding game, not only with the inevitable petulant foul, but also a few moments of over-elaboration in the second half. 2-0 was not the signal to down tools and make merry, so he might have been advised to pick the simple pass rather than blasting crossfield 30 yarders of questionable return on investment.

And finally, having taken such pains to tear United apart, someone at some stage really ought to have applied the coup de grace and put the matter to bed. The second half turned into a litany of chances, but 2-0 it remained.
Which was enough, and bodes well. A point at Liverpool and then another win at home to Arsenal would represent a marvellous couple of weeks’ work, before we knuckle back down to the Champions League.

Southampton 1-1 Spurs: Five THFC Observations

1. Full-Backs Exposed

I think it’s fair to conclude that that did not really go as planned. Instead of taking the game to our hosts from the off, we were a tad off-colour and distrait, and the early initiative having been up for grabs for any willing taker, Southampton had a whirl at it.

In the first 45 they opted to drill away at our flanks, which made them hay by the absolute shedload, and it would not be stretching things to say that certain members of our all-star cast rather obliged them in this endeavour. Messrs Son and Sissoko simply peered over at their full-backs and decided that they would rather give the whole jamboree a wide berth, offering precious little more than moral support, and leaving Davies and Aurier to fight the actual physical battle on their own.

When these things are discussed over port and cigarettes later this evening, the full-backs might make the point that that was really not quite cricket, and should they be feeling particularly fruity might even introduce, as Exhibit A, the goal that we conceded, its genesis indeed arriving from a waylaying of Aurier. All deeply unsatisfactory, even if the weeping and gnashing off teeth lasted only around a minute or two.

2. Conditions. Which Affected Both Teams Equally, Mind

This slight dereliction of duty on the part of Son and Sissoko was indicative of a wider sloppiness across the ranks. Presumably when accustomed to playing on the sort of pristine lawn on which one would normally crack open the croquet set and get boshing, one raises an eyebrow or two if instead presented with a sodden bog being lashed upon from the heavens.

Our heroes certainly did seem to approach the task as if having just had the rug whipped from beneath them, and to suggest that they struggled a tad through the conditions would not be overstating the case. Passes as often missed their targets as hit, control became a near-mythical entity and anyone trying to run with the ball at feet quickly came to curse the decision as they stumbled and bumbled like an entire squadron of Moussa Sissokos.

The current vintage are at their best when nudging first-time passes to one another, and that particular brand of quality output was in desperately short supply. All the more galling that Southampton seemed to adjust better and do the first-time thing rather more niftily at times (although that might just be a view coloured by the mournful, pessimistic lenses of an observer who has seen two points frittered away).

3. To Absent Friends, Part 1: Eriksen

Can’t really blame the chap for sitting it out with a hot drink and some paracetamol, because man-flu is scientifically proven to make one’s head explode if not kept in check, but Eriksen’s all-seeing eye and unique brand of sorcery was most certainly missed. As lamented earlier, our one-touch game was replaced by a giant bowl of stodge, and whereas these things usually have Eriksen at their hub, like a human heart doing the decent thing and keeping every other organ on top of its game, today there was simply an awkward impotence about the place.

Replacing Eriksen with Sissoko is like being told on entering the gladiatorial arena that your sword and shield are being replaced by a scrunched up ball of paper but best of luck anyway. One is inclined to make a fist of things, but cannot escape the sense that the odds have been rather cruelly reversed and things are about to take a turn for the nightmarish.

Pre kick-off I had, with what turned out to be fairly outrageous optimism, opined that I would rather Eriksen were missing for this game than the upcoming ones vs Man Utd, Arsenal and so on. Quite the misjudgement. We simply do not have another of his ilk in the ranks. Personally I would have opted for Lamela over Sissoko – although in truth, I would have volunteered to play myself rather than pick Sissoko. The point is that we are too reliant on Eriksen, and lacking a suitable deputy.

4. To Absent Friends, Part 2: Lloris

Monsieur Lloris was also sniffling his way through proceedings from his sick-bed, meaning the rarely-spotted Vorm was duly trotted out. I have to admit I did not envy the chap, who appeared to be on a hiding to nothing with the heavens flung wide open and every drop of rain available being sloshed around the surface.

Credit to the bean then, for getting his mitts onto everything that came his way. The own-goal left him with little in the way of an escape-route, but in addition Southampton fired in a handful of low shots that slid across the tur, and had the AANP heart leaping the odd somersault or two, and it was to Vorm’s credit that he snaffled up everything with a decent slab of assurance.

5. Dembele: Frustrated and Frustrating

If there were one man who perhaps might have conjured up a little inspiration, it was possibly Dembele. He seemed to have been encouraged to run with the ball and do as he pleased, and briefly it looked like this might do the trick, for he certainly does it have in him to glide past two or three of the opposing fish with barely a sideways glance.

Alas, things did not really click for him today, and he was as likely to be swarmed upon and diverted as he was to do any good wholesome damage. In the end he reverted to bundling folk over and waving his arms around, and the whole drama ended rather soberly with a booking and a substitution.
If we cannot ping quick passes we need someone capable of beating a man, and today we had neither.

So the Top Four is still eminently doable, but equally looking quite the delicate operation, if you follow. The next month or so will require some deep breaths, rousing performances – and Eriksen restored to full health.

Spurs 1-1 West Ham: Five Lilywhite Observations

strong>1. These Sort of Games: A Lament

Times, as the old bird murmured, are a-changing, and he may have had a point. It would not have happened in the day of WG Grace and chums, but in the modern game it is virtually the norm for one team to help themselves to 70% plus of possession and still spend the entirety scratching their heads as to how to win the dashed thing.

As recently as ten years ago, any team dominating the game thusly would rack up a hatful of goals and have cigars out long before time was called. These days however, there are pretty much 14 teams in the Premier League who are perfectly content to set up with nine or ten at the back and high-five their way home with a point in the bag.

It’s a riddle facing each of the Top Six, and at a loose guess I would suggest that our heroes drop points once in every half dozen or so of these games. If you expect that I have the solution you can dashed well eat your hat, but sometimes these things need to be said, and AANP may have been called many things, but a man to shirk his civic duty is not one of them.

It all seems to have sprung from the sackfuls of Champions League money hoovered up by the Top Six or so, creating in effect a league within the Premier League – or indeed two leagues, if you want to be particularly clever. And the whole bally thing is ruining the spectacle, because teams rarely go toe to toe any more. Further proof, if ever it were needed, that we should bring back the ‘90s.

2. Formation: A Complaint

As for the game itself, one would have to be particularly mean-spirited to chide our heroes for failure to triumph. The Wembley turf, one imagines, is bedewed with the good honest sweat of a race run, just forty-eight hours after ploughing through the swamp at Swansea.

If I have any recrimination, it is squarely aimed at our glorious leader. Having made the fairly progressive decision to use 4-1-4-1 away to Swansea, I can grudgingly accept that the reversion to 4-2-3-1 made a degree of sense at kick-off. This, after all, was West Ham’s Cup Final, and therefore one might expect them to pack some sort of punch. A midfield screen of Sissoko and Dier was, one accepts, not entirely the sort of insane guff that would have one led to the nearest padded cell.

However, by half-time it was pretty clear that the dreadful bilge being peddled by our guests rendered fairly redundant a defensive screen of two heavyweights. Moreover, while our lot were looking feisty enough, and producing the occasional slick passing combo, an extra attacking threat would have been welcomed aboard with gusto.

In short, the game was screaming out for a switch to 4-1-something-something (either 4-1-4-1 or 4-1-3-2), but Poch, as is his wont, kept his arms folded and persisted with one too many defensive types, until we were one down.

3. Sissoko: A Rant In No Uncertain Times, I Assure You

I have tried rather valiantly, in recent weeks, to identify the silver linings around the worthless, malcoordinated cloud that is Sissoko, but yesterday’s performance was utter tripe, even by his low standards.

How he is a professional footballer at all beggars belief, let alone an ever-present in our team and a member of the French international squad. The chap lumbered around like he understands the game less and less with each passing minute, comfortably the worst lilywhite on display. There might be some value in switching him to central defence, where his principal strength – namely, well, his strength, and general speed and power – can be utilised without having to torture onlookers with his rampant inability to control the dashed thing.

Such were my levels of apoplexy last night that I had to steady the nerves with an extra splash of bourbon, and hum the lines of one or two of the less aggressive arias. This rot simply has to stop.

4. Alli Improvement

On a brighter not, young Dele seems gradually to be rediscovering what it was that had everyone running around in a flap last season.

Let there be no mistake, his penchant for dwelling on the ball every time he touches it continues to try the soul, but he bobs about the centre with a bit more purpose than in previous months, and is beginning to make those marvellous Platt/Scholes-esque dashes into the penalty area that have the pulse quickening and one shouting an excited “Hoi!”

I admit I groan rather when one of our much-vaunted counter-attacks lands at his feet, for he will as sure as dash it suck all the speed out of the process. Broadly speaking, however, his dial is pointing back in the right direction, and this bodes well.

5. Eriksen Replacement

Difficult not to open one’s heart and reel off sweet nothings at the chap, no? His technique, his wicked dead-ball delivery, his sheer vim and eagerness to pick a match-winning pass – most of what is good at some point or other will pass through his bloodstream.

It makes the inner pessimist rather fret of what might happen should some malady befall him. With the Transfer Window now once again open I would like to see a creative type leap aboard the good ship Hotspur (and no, I don’t mean the chap Barkley).

Even in rude health it is probably unreasonable to expect Eriksen to mastermind all things creative, week in and week out. The return of Lamela is certainly welcome, but there is definitely scope for another blighter capable of dipping his shoulder and producing a spot of ooftah from nowhere. Particularly in games such as these, when our lot have to sit around the camp fire and work out how the devil to unpick a ten-man defence.

Three wins and a draw is not the worst festive return. We sit on the shoulder, as, famously, did Dame Kelly in 2004, and things worked out fairly sparko for her.

Burnley 0-3 Spurs: Five Lilywhite Observations

1. Dele Alli

Better start at the beginning, what? First of all, the yellow card challenge, which seemed something of a non-event when one dons the white coat and rushes to the microscope. Our man appeared to be attempting to block the other chap, rather than crush his legs, and arrived late, making fairly minimal contact as far as I could see.

Whereas last week’s challenge on de Bruyne had all the hallmarks of Attila in a particularly bellicose mood, this
one was a little messy, and not a great deal more.

Of more concern from my vantage point was the fact that it all came about because young Dele insisted yet again upon taking approximately umpteen touches of the ball – leading to the inevitable attempted nutmeg and overrunning of the thing – rather than simply giving it early and setting in motion something exciting. But these young folk will insist on over-complicating things.

The penalty was similarly straightforward. The young bean in opposition made a fairly ill-advised foray into proceedings, Dele gratefully took a tumble, and the cause of universal chagrin appears to be that he went to ground under a challenge that was unlikely to maim him. Little sympathy for Burnley on that one. And credit to Kane for taking a penalty that bore all the hallmarks of the exquisite Euro 96 vintage between England and Germany, pre-sudden death.

2. Oddly in Praise of Sissoko

Poor old Moussa Sissoko. In a team so choc full of extravagant technicians that one cannot scratch one’s own nose without bumping into a master of the first-time-control-and-spin-all-in-a-single-movement, Sissoko is without doubt the slightly backward kid who requires extra tuition while the rest are at assembly.

As is traditional, he greeted his latest starting spot with a wild miskick, but thereafter I thought the chap actually made a decent enough fist of things. Admittedly, one judges him by far gentler criteria than his more illustrious chums, for whom pinged forty yard cross-field diagonals are key objectives, but Sissoko is evidently under strict instructions to keep things as simple as possible, and this he just about did.

Off the ball he harassed and pressurised, limbs a-flailing, bearing down upon his prey; and in possession he did as no doubt told, slowly manoeuvring himself into the perfect position to execute a simple side-footed pass, and doing so repeatedly, to effect several of the aforementioned, each of around three feet, towards those more accomplished.

Alas, when given time to think, in that glorious one-on-one chance in the first half, it was all too much for the chap to handle, and smoke came billowing out of his ears, preceding the inevitable miss. (In truth, he did actually send the ‘keeper the wrong way, and was only denied by an outstretched leg, but nevertheless – he should have scored).

All told however, he did what was required. An all-singing, all-dancing, creator extraordinaire he evidently is not, but as a muscular ball of energy, charging around so that others can play, he does adequately enough.

3. Sanchez

When historians gather round in decades to come and pore over the minutiae of this one, no doubt they will muse that the match was won in the more advanced plots of earth, but we at AANP Towers are nothing if not reasonable folk, and thus it is only right to pay due homage to the efforts of Davison Sanchez at the back.

Not for the first time this season it can fairly legitimately be remarked that the chap navigated his way through proceedings without putting a foot wrong the whole way through. Having checked the records – and for the matter watched the entire game – I can verify that opposition forwards were indeed on the pitch, but Sanchez simply cruised through like a young monarch being pampered to within an inch of his life, without a care in the world.

Any semblance of an attack was snuffled out with minimal fuss, on top of which the chap also took it upon himself every now and then to drop a shoulder and bring the ball out of defence. The absence of Toby had threatened to envelop every man, woman and child in a sense of foreboding, but Sanchez just seems to brush off these worries like a man without a care in the world.

4. Son and Eriksen

On a vaguely tactical note, whether enforced by the absence of Toby or not, the switch to choice of four at the back once again allowed for the use of Son in attack, as well as Eriksen and Alli, and when the whole lot of them were in full flow one rather wanted to alert a neighbour so that they too could sit back and marvel.

Unlike last week, our heroes were razor-sharp with their passing right from the off, with Son in particular providing plenty of movement, and in the first half hour the Burnley mob seemed to look around at each other as if to ask whether they would not be better off simply waving their white flags and planning for next week instead.

Mercifully it mattered not that our shooting was all over the place for much of the game, and frankly I am far happier that we were making clear cut chances and missing them, as opposed to the travails of recent weeks when we have barely mustered a decent opportunity all game.

All of which digresses a tad from the point that Son and Eriksen were bang on the money throughout.

5. Exactly What We Ought To Do

One or two around these parts had stiffly warned of all manner of frightful eventualities coming to pass under the banner of “Burnley Away”, and they are, I suppose, temporarily at least, Top Four rivals.
Nevertheless, the sentiment within these four walls was that if we are to be a side that makes a decent fist of things against the Champions League elite, than we dashed well should be putting Burnley to the side, red-hot form or not.

This therefore, was absolutely par. Absolutely what should be expected. We should beat every team, bar the Top Six, home and away, and that is pretty much while the eagle-eyed amongst you would have spotted the ever-so-slightly satisfied look in my eyes as matters rolled to their conclusion yesterday.

A merry and blessed Christmas to you all.

Arsenal 2-0 Spurs: Five Lilywhite Conclusions

1. Off the Boil

No doubt about it, that performance stank like the rancid contents of last week’s lunch, left to its own devices in the AANP refrigerator. No man (bar the boy Davinson Sanchez) escapes censure. Despite having successfully negotiated the tests of Dortmund, Liverpool and Real blinking Madrid for goodness sake, by the oh so devastatingly subtle technique of sitting back and then countering like the dickens, the slightly more dubious ploy yesterday appeared to be to go into it toe to toe, and trust that good would triumph over evil.

All well and good, but the plan swiftly morphed into close-eyes-and-keep-fingers-crossed territory, which admittedly is often sufficient to overcome that incompetent rabble – but which yesterday missed the mark like a wild Sissoko swing at thin air.

This being their cup final they threw the kitchen sink at us, pressing us all over the pitch and capitalising upon the mistakes, dash it. Our heroes simply failed to muster sufficient nous, wiles or good old-fashioned gung-ho to make a spectacle of the thing. No excuses, that horrible lot bettered us tactically, and fought for the thing tooth and nail, while our strangely subdued heroes seemed a little perplexed that they did not simply roll over and invite us to tickle their tummies.

2. Alli Anonymous…

Another day, another fairly impotent showing from young Dele. No doubt some of the great thinkers of our age lock themselves away in secluded spots to ponder the mysteries of ethics, aesthetics and the specifics of Dele Alli in the Number 10 role.

To date this season he has chugged away to pretty minimal effect, his outputs primarily notable for unsuccessful dribbles, unsuccessful nutmegs and that toddler tantrum routine whereby he flings himself to the ground then flings his arms skywards, with a particularly grieved expression delicately etched all over his visage, while life just meanders on around him uninterrupted.

But the crux of the thing with this particular scamp is that on the rare occasions (this season) when the planets do align and he ticks his necessary boxes, the result tends to be a goal, which in a way makes the whole laboured fandango worthwhile.

Which obviously sounds marvellous, that being pretty much the nub of the whole exercise, but unless he chips in thusly, he essentially mooches around for the rest of the game like a deaf, blind mute. One might qualify yesterday as Exhibit A in all this, except that it sits alongside multiple other, similar Exhibits from this season. Something must be done.

3… While Son Sits It Out

Which leads seamlessly to the substitutes’ bench where young Sonny twiddles his thumbs. Given that Dele’s contributions seem to be fading from natural sight much like that picture of Marty McFly when things got rather hairy, one wonders whether he might be snaffled from view and sneakily replaced by Son, before anyone notices.

This sort of mild slap on the wrist might do Dele some good, while Son has rarely made it his business to let anyone down when called upon. More specifically, the energy and movement offered by Son would not just have been welcomed yesterday, it would have been clasped to the bosom in a fairly tender embrace, such was the remoteness that existed between defence and attack.

A better technical footballer Dele might be, but at present he neither avails himself sufficiently nor uses the ball with requisite shrewdness.

4. Midfield Protection

If one were to feistily counter that it is a little harsh to single out the boy Dele when barely anyone else sloshed themselves in glory then I would reply in similarly spirited manner, “Well, that is fine by me, and frankly I laud both your honesty and your eagle-eyed sense of observation.” One could not swing a cat without hitting a chap in lilywhite delivering a sub-par performance.

Kane in truth never looks sharp, simply by virtue of his paradoxically lumbering manner, but there seemed to be a consensus that he was decidedly unfit yesterday. Eriksen cut a strangely peripheral figure, as often running away from the action as demanding to hog the limelight and orchestrate the binge; and while Sissoko saw a fair amount of the ball, and applied himself with his usual eagerness, his ability to misplace short passes continues to eat away at my very soul.

On top of which, the absence of Toby meant that Dier was shunted back into central defence, and as a result the protection afforded to the defence was rather negligible throughout.

Where once Wanyama, or latterly Dier, patrolled the middle like nightclub bouncers with chips on their shoulders, yesterday the Arsenal mob were able to play all manner of little diagonals behind our full-backs, with their runners haring away into space like a team of young bucks exploring a great big spring meadow. The runs were neither prevented at source nor tracked during their lifespan, and it was little surprise to the nation’s soothsayers when one such sequence brought about a goal.

Neither Dembele nor Sissoko are the types of midfielder whose neuro-wirings are typically set to Protect and Defend, and we suffered for it yesterday.

5. The Curious Incident of Danny Rose

So not really an episode with which to regale the grandchildren in years to come, and as well as the limp showing on the pitch, there was also some rummy old business off it.

The exclusion of Danny Rose from the entire matchday squad was one of those that is pretty much guaranteed to raise an eyebrow or two amongst the baying masses, and Our Glorious Leader’s explanations did little to tighten the loose ends. The young blighter is not fit apparently, which makes fair enough grammatical and conceptual sense, but pause to examine the evidence and suddenly one heck of a mystery starts to simmer amongst the eagle-eyed.

For Master Rose played near enough 90 minutes against both Palace a fortnight ago and Germany last week, and while one does not want to work the chap into the ground so soon after his return from the desert island on which he had been stranded during injury, the whole business has a decidedly unnatural whiff to it.

His ill-chosen words during the summer might well have made him persona non grata chez Pochettino, but if that were the case then why the devil was he back in the fold in recent weeks? All terrifically mysterious, but one imagines that the blighter is unlikely to live happily ever after at N17. A rather unhappy footnote to a deeply unsatisfying weekend.

Shameless Plug Alert – AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes, continues to retail at Amazon and Waterstones, hint hint

Spurs 1-0 Palace: Five Lilywhite Observations

1. Ongoing Labours Vs Defensive Types

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

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

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

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

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

2. Gazzaniga Earns His Corn

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

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

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

3. Dier in the Back Three

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

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

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

4. Aurier’s Buffoonery

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

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

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

5. Squad Depth

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

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

Shameless Plug Alert – AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes, continues to retail at Amazon and Waterstones, hint hint

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