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CL Final Preview: 6 Players Who Took Tottenham To The Final

1. Hugo Lloris

Heaven knows I’ve been at the front of the queue when it’s come to sticking the knife into our skipper – and giving it a vigorous twist for good measure too – because the absurd, unforced errors have come thick and fast in the last season or two. However, when push met shove in the business end of this season’s Champions League, Lloris thrust out limbs like nobody’s business.

The Dortmund away leg springs to mind, a game into which we took a three-goal lead but looked for all the money in the world like we wouldn’t make it to half-time without being pegged back.

Dortmund brought their A-game, slicing us apart with the sort of blurry whizz of motion that Ajax were to replicate in the semi-final. Time and again they skipped past each of our massed ranks until finding themselves staring into the whites of Lloris’ eyes; but time and again our captain did the necessary, no matter how unlikely the laws of physics suggested this would be. Re-watch the highlights of that first half in particular, and one needs to dust off the abacus to rack up the precise number of point-blank saves made.

Fast-forward a couple of months, and within ten minutes of the quarter-final first leg at home to Man City, VAR had awarded a penalty against Danny Rose, and the customary uphill slog looked set to kick in.

Enter, yet again, Monsieur Lloris, to repel Aguero’s spot-kick and breathe fresh life into this unlikeliest of campaigns. Had Aguero scored, the away goals advantage would have gone up in smoke there and then, and more pertinently City might well have racked up a hatful.

2. Moussa Sissoko

AANP’s player of the season, Sissoko seems to have improved with every game, transforming before our goggling eyes from figure of fun to critical cog in the machinery. One moment that summed up this metamorphosis was his gallop forward in the closing stages at home to Inter.

By that stage of the campaign it was win or bust, thrice in a row. A sloppy start had left our heroes with one point from three games, and any thoughts of winning the whole dashed thing had been tied up in a sack, weighed down with bricks and dropped overboard. Needing a win to avoid elimination in each of Matchdays 4, 5 and 6, this seemed rather unlikely against Inter, until the final 10 minutes, when Sissoko took it upon himself to put his head down and charge into enemy territory.

One is reluctant to blame the Inter mob for backing off, for it would be a brave man to try to impede a Sissoko gathering a head of steam. The chap drove from Point A, around 10 yards inside his own half, to Point B well inside the Inter penalty area, with the sort of steely determination that one dares not interrupt, and with each step began imprinting himself into Tottenham folklore.

He found Dele, who swivelled and found Eriksen, and his finish kept our heads above water. Just.

Further approving nods to Sissoko for setting up Kane away to Dortmund, and filling in at auxiliary right-back away to Barcelona, after KWP was hooked and we went in desperate search of an equaliser.

And of course, his introduction against Ajax in the semi-final first leg did just about enough to wrest the game away from them.

3. Jan Vertonghen

One of several who made pretty vital, last-ditch stretches away to Dortmund, to keep our hosts at bay and our 3-0 lead in tact when it seemed that calamity might befall, my best mate’s true value was demonstrated in the first leg of that same tie.

Playing at left wing-back Vertonghen first went toe-to-toe with Jadon Sancho, by the skin of his teeth keeping the young pup contained in a first half in which we were decidedly second best.

In the second half, however, Vertonghen emerged as an irresistible creative force from left-back, flying down the flank with unsullied abandon, whipping in a series of crosses that sent the Dortmund central defence into a frightful tizz and capping things off with a striker’s finish to put us two goals ahead and take something of a knife to Dortmund’s spirits.

That Vertonghen-inspired win gave us enough breathing space to survive the second leg onslaught – and just like that, we were in the quarter-finals.

4. Harry Kane

An enforced absentee for various critical stages of the campaign, Kane still popped up with a number of pretty vital finishes hither and thither. Hardly a surprise, as 14 goals in 18 Champions League appearances does point to a chap who bounds around the place ticking boxes at this level like it’s going out of fashion, but it’s still rather easy to forget his contribution to this season’s effort.

Most notably this occurred at home to PSV in the group stage. Again, it was a game in which nothing less than victory would suffice – so obviously we went behind in the first minute.

And there we remained until the final 10, when Kane’s relentless focus on hitting the target paid off, albeit in slightly more nerve-jangly fashion than would have been ideal.

First a pot-shot in a crowded area found the bottom corner; and then in the final moments a header towards the right-hand corner took a hefty deflection of one PSV torso to send it towards the middle of the goal, and then for good measure detoured again, of another PSV limb, to trickle apologetically into the bottom left.

They all count – as Kane, more than most, will testify – and on we stumbled marched.

5. Fernando Llorente

Another of those chaps who puts the “fickle” into “AANP”, I can quite easily wile away a spare half hour by simply lambasting Fernando Llorente – and yet few have been more critical to what might be the most brilliant success in our history.

As aforementioned, when needing a win at home to PSV, we did it the Spurs way and entered the final 10 minutes a goal down. By this point Llorente had been unceremoniously deposited into the PSV area, and duly earned his keep. Give him a chance two yards in front of goal and the ball might end up anywhere in the solar system, but tell him to hold up the ball, hold off a central defender and lay the ball delicately into the path of Harry Kane, and he’s in business. He did just that, Kane scored and we went on to scrape a win.

Fast forward to the quarter-final away leg at Man City, and Llorente produced the sort of finish that only a man of his questionable finishing ability can produce. Closing his eyes and hoping to win a header from a waist-height cross, he did enough to bundle his way in front of his man, and use a questionable combination of hip and possibly-or-possibly-not wrist to force the ball in. And then celebrated like we fans were celebrating.

Fast forward even further, and with nothing left to lose in the semi-final second leg against Ajax, Llorente’s very presence, introduced at half-time, did enough to sow seeds amongst the Ajax defence. Daly Blind in particular spent most of that half casting a perturbed hand across a distinctly fevered brow, as Llorente simply bullied him.

Aside from any contributions to goals, this helped changed the pattern of play, and momentum of the game. And then, ultimately, his ungainly, angular poke of the ball, in the final minute of added time, was enough to give Dele a yard, and then Lucas Moura… [goosebumps]

6. Lucas Moura

Not just a man for a semi-final hat-trick, Lucas also scored in the dying minutes against Barcelona, in yet another of those group stage games in which we desperately needed a win and therefore conceded early.

Lucas charged in to slap the ball home from close range, and with a little help from PSV we went from one point after three games, to qualification for the knockouts.

And what a knockout it was shaping up to be in the semi-final. In truth, until he scored I was rather despairing of Lucas’ contribution. Frenetic and a little wasteful when on the gallop; unable to link with midfield when dropping deep with back to goal; and without a shot in anger in the whole first half, he seemed just another one of those waving forlornly as the game passed him by.

But then, by golly what an impact. The surge of pace to latch on to Dele’s touch for the first goal was worthy of an Olympic sprinter.

The footwork to dance around the Ajax 6-yard box before scoring the second was worthy of any head-down 9 year-old in the playground.

And then the winner, placed into the only available spot in the net, at the last possible moment before two Ajax defenders could and would have blocked it, and as the clock ticked from 94:59 to 95:00…

I’m not sure there will ever be a Tottenham Hotspur moment quite like it. The bedlam, the en masse Ajax faceplant, the repeated viewings and the full 24 hours it took to register the enormity. On top of which, it’s rather pleasing that the hero of the hour was one of the more unlikely sorts, as it does hammer home that the whole thing was quite the collective effort (which makes a mockery of a list of 6 individuals, but over that we quietly gloss). Heroes, predictable and otherwise, at every turn – one wonders if there is room for one more name to be heralded on Saturday…

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Spurs 2-1 PSV: Four Tottenham Observations

1. A Welcome Change of Narrative

Well this rather cocks the hat at a jaunty angle, in response to all those harbingers of doom, gloom and mockery.
Admittedly in the grand scheme of things it is unlikely to make too much difference, for our CL campaign has “Dreadfully sorry, but it’s 3rd place and Europa” etched all over it, but nevertheless. For a spineless, gutless mob incapable of seeing out games, there was a decent slab of spine and gut about the manner in which we clawed this back, particularly so late on in proceedings, and with our margin of error amounting to precisely the square of zero.

All the pre-match bubble and hype was about the need to win at all costs, eradicate mistakes and all that cheery guff – so naturally, this being Spurs, we were one down within a minute.

Not that there was too much in the way of sackcloth and ashes at AANP Towers when that opener landed, for the motto around these parts is that it’s vastly preferable to concede in the first minute than last. Plenty more time to adjust one’s settings, don’t you know?

And thereafter we tore away at PSV like a team of rabid cats feeling particularly irate about their lot. Chances came and went so frequently I wanted to set my watch by them, and the PSV goalkeeper, a chap who appeared at first glance designed for chopping trees and lugging oxen, spent the first 80 minutes thrusting a well-timed mitt at just about everything we threw at him.

It’s worth hammering away the point that, given all of the above, this was tailor-made for a night of ignominy. Instead, we played well throughout, just about kept our discipline and found a way to snatch victory from defeat. One hopes that such stirring sentiments and rousing performances are adopted by our lot every time they set foot on greenery from here on in.

2. Moura

It was one of those nights on which it doesn’t quite seem the square thing to go singling out such-and-such a chap for his efforts, because just about everyone involved worked up a pretty honest sweat for the cause, and with the exceptions of Davies and Son I thought they just about all delivered a meaty thrust too.

But in those irksome first half minutes in which we just couldn’t quite connect the dots, it warmed the heart no end to see Lucas get his head down and set off on a series of mazy dribbles that involved beating every PSV player in sight and haring straight into the middle of their area.

In the land of neat but often sideways passing and probing, the dribbler is king, and Lucas’ contributions to the cause seemed to get the watching hordes on their feet and give everyone a handy shot of adrenaline.

3. Gazzaniga

The murmur for Gazzaniga to be elevated at least one rung up the goalkeeping ladder has gathered momentum in a gentle, underground sort of manner over recent weeks, and to his credit the young bean didn’t disappoint when handed his chance.

The Cruyff turn seemed wildly unnecessary, and there was one errant pass, but that aside his distribution was sensible and his shot-stopping accurate. One in particular, when we were caught on the hop at 1-1, was notable for having been struck like an exocet missile by the looming PSV bod. Gazzaniga, evidently, has reflexes like a cat and wrists like hardened cement for he managed to paw it northwards in what is technically known as a Blur Of Motion.

Not much he could have done about the goal. All told, this chap keeps the pulse of the onlooker a darned sight steadier than Michel Vorm, so it appears that the pecking order might have been permanently altered.

4. Substitutions

By and large there’s nothing but praise for Our Glorious Leader in these parts; except, of course, for when I’m criticising him. And that tends usually to happen when a mid-game change is needed to right a few wrongs.

On this occasion, admittedly, the hooking of Moura, who, as mentioned, had been running pretty rings around PSV – while Sonny laboured to effect but one ring all game – seemed a rummy move. Perhaps fatigue and fitness was the decisive factor in this thinking?

More of a game-changer however, was the addition of Llorente into the mix. Rocket science it admittedly was not, for lilywhite crosses were already raining in, so why not throw in the lumbering giant? But these things are best judged on hindsight, and for his immaculate cushioned lay-off to Kane for the equaliser, Llorente justified his selection, and Pochettino earned a small gold star.

Elsewhere, Winks was excellent; the Eriksen belly appeared brimful with fire; and Dele’s return continues to add a frisson of excitement (even if his tendency to hog the ball continues); but all told this was a triumph for the whole bally mob.

Need a Christmas present for the Spurs fan in your life? AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes is available on Amazon…

PSV 2-2 Spurs: Five Tottenham Observations

1. Gallingly Pretty Stuff

Bafflingly, had it not been for the stress of the thing, this would have been an absolute treat to behold, at least for the opening 80 or so.

Take the goals alone. The first one was the sunny output of no fewer than 19 passes, according to the bods who monitor such things, the penultimate one of which was an absolute delight inside the full-back, from the wand of Eriksen. Yes, there was a deflection on the finish, but after 19 passes that’s hardly the point is it?

The second goal was, to the lover’s gaze, a thing of even greater beauty. The little exchanges between Son and Eriksen had the poor old PSV mob scuttling around in little circles like dogs spying their tails and setting off in hot pursuit, while the cross from Eriksen was of that wicked ilk that really ought not to be viewed before the watershed.

In short the whole lilywhite performance was so sparkling that great swathes of cherubim and seraphim were making the dickens of a racket about it. In terms of aesthetics and technique it was off the scale.

Moreover, it was all delivered having earlier been on the receiving end of a couple of notable stings of disappointment. The PSV opener for a start, had something of Paul Parker in Italia ’90 about its perfect parabola over the ‘keeper. The downright rummy call to chalk off Davinson Sanchez’s efforts had the visiting patrons similarly miffed, and the whole unfortunate saga was starting to become uncannily reminiscent of the first half of the ’91 FA Cup Final for the way in which Lady Luck was having her cruel way with us.

Yet by the hour-mark we were playing a brand of the beautiful stuff that was a notch or two above most mere mortals, and absolutely cruising on to Gameweek 4 with our pockets positively bursting with points. Indeed, by the time of the red card our hosts had not managed one second half shot, such was our dominance post-interval.

2. Experience: Overrated

Naturally, it does not need me to remind that thereafter the whole thing went rather Spurs-shaped. However, the roll-call of miscreants makes for interesting viewing.

Toby may have redeemed himself, for about one tenth of a second, with his sliding tackle, but his leaden-footed buffoonery was the first official crack in the Hotspur mentality, and this is a chap to whom we turn most readily for leadership, big-game nous and all those other important-sounding buzzwords on occasions such as these.

Master Eriksen, arguably the pick of the lilywhite bunch on the night, blotted his escutcheon like nobody’s business with his lazy concession of possession on halfway, which set the PSV chap motoring off towards Lloris around the 80-minute mark. Again, Eriksen is a man of big-match experience, and as such he really ought to have known better than to try show-boating on halfway when the lead was but one goal.

And as for Monsieur Lloris, the mind boggles so much that a strongly-worded letter to The Times simply does not do it justice. Again, the chap has experience in absolute truckloads, which does rather beg the question – what the deuces?

Each summer for around four or five years the walls of AANP Towers have been alive with the sound of chuntering about our lack of arrivals specifically with the big-match experience to see us through such crunch CL games as these. But when the very chaps blessed with such experience are the ones most prominently sticking their feet in buckets and tripping over their laces one wonders where we go next. There is simply no legislating for such monumental foul-ups – but as long as they continue the lilywhite juggernaut will remain stuck in this underachieving rut.

3. Eriksen

I have already touched upon comments within both the Credit and Debit columns under Eriksen’s name, but to reiterate the positive, by the second half he was playing the game as if life and all contained within could be slowed down at his whim.

My, how we have missed him when he has been in this sort of form, and how we lack a remotely adequate reserve.

His error leading to the red card cannot be ignored, but he was at the heart of so much that was good as we forced our way into the lead, and then edged towards a third.

4. Dembele

Another welcome returnee was Dembele. The snorting-bull/balletic-ice-skater hybrid has blown hot and cold to date this season, but right from the opening toot he was on top-notch form yesterday.

Time and again he picked up the ball fifteen or so yards inside his own half, and within four or five seconds was fifteen or so yards inside the opposition half, with a couple of steamrollered PSV sorts lying dazed and confused in his wake. It was peak Dembele.

Although a yellow card seemed inevitable given the manner in which he slings his forearms this way and that when in pursuit, the caution he actually received was jolly harsh. It did nevertheless mean that I spent the remainder of the game screeching, “Don’t dive in, egads!” every time he thundered off in pursuit off the ball, but luckily he escaped further censure until replaced the Scrappy to his Scooby.

5. Lloris

Since the chap is evidently pretty deficient in the grey cells department I won’t dwell on his latest aberration,
but what of the future for Monsier Lloris? A season that ought really to have been the zenith of his career is rather awkwardly spiralling into one of those anni horribiles of which one hears so much.

The chap’s off-pitch foul-up has been complemented by a whole string of on-pitch errors, coming in thick and fast at the rate of one every two games or so, which is quite the batting average. Still amongst the best in the business when it comes to the pain-et-buerre of stopping shots, his presence as final custodian is beginning to instil dread, given his capacity to magic calamities out of thin air.

Irritatingly, Vorm is current possessor of the reserve gloves, which on form alone makes precious little sense as his unique selling point currently appears to be the startled stare he directs at the ball as it whizzes into his net.

On his rare outings in the first time I’ve always been rather taken by young Senor Gazzaniga, but I suppose the 24-7 grind of training is enough to indicate to the great and good that third choice is where he should stay.

It is difficult to imagine that Our Glorious Leader would dare to omit Lloris for the Man City game next week, but for the chap to be untouchable even when routinely making such errors of judgements rather epitomises the collective problem of not having the God-given sense to see out a win.

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

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