All Action, No Plot

Tottenham Hotspur – latest news, opinion, reports, previews, transfers, gossip, rants… from one bewildered fan
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Spurs 1-0 Palace: Four Lilywhite Musings

A new season, and to all intents and purposes the same serving of near-incessant pressure against a well-drilled defensive mob – but we at AANP Towers are nothing if not eagle-eyed, and the subtle differences being paraded to the masses yesterday did not escape detection.

There was the giant hole in the stadium for a start, which those with less keen powers of observation might simply have overlooked, or dismissed as one of those things that happens during the summer months. And then there were the moderate but unmistakeable tweaks to various knobs and dials that Pochettino had effected in advance of proceedings. For a start we tumbled out onto the pitch with a Dele Alli-shaped hole in the midfield; and with Kane now occupying a more withdrawn role; while Janssen swanned around atop the formation. Changes so delicate that many would have failed to notice, but the AANP detective squad were all over them, every sense atuned and sinew strained.

1. Janssen’s Home Debut

Football observers of a particularly wily vintage will tell you that mid-August is no time to be flinging around judgements of new signings. The Test series has only just ended, the Olympians are still just about aiming faster, higher and whatnot – give the big-money signing another five minutes at least to catch his breath and re-read his notes.

So the distinctive whiff emanating from AANP Towers is not judgement, or any particular doubt about the new lad’s ability, but simply fear. The unmistakeable fear of the Spurs fan who has watched on over the years, as the shiny and rather pricey new bounder takes to the field in attack, and proceeds to fluff his lines. Postiga, Bent, Soldado – all men who arrived at the Lane looking bucked and full of the joys, and with good reason too, because all were, in their own ways, rather nifty in one medium or other. But somehow things simply did not fall into place in front of goal, and now if one closes the eyes and tiptoes down Memory Lane, the first dashed image that springs to mind is the pained look of disbelief shared by each of Messrs Postiga, Bent and Soldado (typically accompanied by hands raised headwards) as yet another chance flew left, or right, or into the ‘keepers arms, or into the side netting, or into orbit – frankly any dashed place but the net.

One shudders. And one certainly does not judge Janssen, because in truth he seems a decent sort of bean when kitted out in lilywhite, ticking such boxes as “Laudable Movement”, “Lay-Offs Weighted Just So” and “Robust Sort of Blighter”. So if anything, the judgement is that the chap does indeed appear to cross enough t’s and dot enough i’s to give Kane five minutes every now and then to catch his breath and swig an isotonic whatsit.

But the fear remains, because the chap dashed well needs to beg, steal or borrow a goal at some point soonish, or the thing will start weighing on his mind, what? The chance last week he tucked into well enough, but the ‘keeper thrust out a paw and such was life. With the first chance yesterday – the rebound from Kane’s effort – again one could hardly quibble that he failed to get the basics right or suchlike, but life being what it is the ball stayed out.

It was the final chance, through on goal in the second half, which really brought the first sense of fear my way. Clean through, defenders politely stepping aside, net beckoning warmly. The thing only required him to sign on the dotted line, but instead he channelled the spirit of a thousand Bents or Soldados. The major concern is that if he goes without a goal for any length of time the issue might begin to gnaw away at him, as can happen to a blighter with a thing on his mind, and before you know it he has packed his bags and shuffled off with tears in his eyes, and his friends turn to each other and say “What the deuces happened to him, he seemed rather a sharp old nut?”

However, with a bit of luck he’ll casually bang home a couple next time out, and we can all live happily ever after.

2. Kane’s New Home

Should any defence be needed of young Master Janssen, one might point out that Kane has not exactly been pelting them in from all angles so far this season either.

Yesterday, our glorious leader took the fairly radical measure of deploying two in attack, with Kane playing Sheringham to Janssen’s Shearer. Given that this was a home match against a team whose drill was always likely to be sit back, lap the thing up and hope for a handy bolt of lightning from above or some other such stroke of luck, the Two-In-Attack gambit made a truckload of sense, so Pochettino duly receives an approving nod.

And to his credit, Kane seemed to roll through proceedings like a man pretty well versed in the art (not entirely surprisingly, given that he has dabbled in it before). Yesterday was not necessarily a masterclass, but he rolled up his sleeves and ferried things around like a well-trained hound, and did not scrimp when it came to blasting the bally thing towards goal with everything he could muster.

A couple of shots from distance, plus a header narrowly wide, suggested that here was a man whose lust for life was not diminished by his new set of responsibilities – and for good measure he rallied round just when things appeared to be slipping away, to nod the thing goalwards for Wanyama to pop it in.

3. Dele Alli

No doubt about it, one or two tongues wagged pre kick-off yesterday, when news of Dele Alli’s demotion rippled around, but the truth of thing was rather more mundane than some would have had us believe. The poor lamb had been under the weather, nothing more sinister.

Nevertheless, news that he was only on the bench was generally greeted with a considered and approving nod around these parts. This season promises to be quite the ordeal, with European concerns now to be treated as meaningful rather than a chance for the reserves to parade their wares. At some point or other, our heroes will need to be omitted, and at home to Palace seems as reasonable a time as any.

As it happened, when he was finally introduced, Alli’s impact was a credit to the NHS, because the chap seemed to be in rude health. The pass to Janssen for the second half chance was masterfully delivered, and later on he let fly with a shot that earned top marks for technique and aesthetics, if falling short by a whisker or two in the accuracy stakes.

4. Life Without Dembele

A congratulatory word for Victor Wanyama, who looked suitably braced with his efforts, and why not? Wanyama certainly applies himself with the sort of rigour that one likes to see from the stands, and which one hopes sends a message to the chums either side of him that there is something to be said for getting stuck in and giving it what for.

It is probably fair to say that he does not quite replicate the role of Dembele, in terms of acting as marauder par excellence, but that’s not really the point. I’m not sure that another man exists in Christendom who can replicate the Dembele role. Wanyama offers a different sort of basket of eggs, and it is a dashed useful one to have, and certainly a notch up on the alternatives (Carroll, Mason and the like).

Dembele will presumably be welcomed back into the fold with open arms and a hearty embrace once his sentence is served; but bear in mind that whenever he was absent last season, we more or less folded like a pack of cards on a blustery day at the seafront. This time round we have a win and a draw without him already, so let this be a ringing endorsement for squad reinforcement.

A solid start then, and already an improvement on this time last season. To have achieved this without two of the more influential souls in the line-up (Lloris and Dembele), and having fairly successfully integrated a couple of new faces, bodes jolly well.

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

Spurs 1-0 Sheff Utd: Turning The Hard Way Into An Art Form

Melchett: ‘It’s a barren, featureless wasteland out there, isn’t it?’
Darling: ‘The other side, sir…’

I suppose we can comfort ourselves with the knowledge that even if we had established a three or four goal advantage tonight, this being Spurs we would probably be two down within ten minutes in the second leg anyway. Nevertheless, even by our standards, this was particularly head-against-wall-bangingly frustrating. Our heroes inevitably spent the first half pausing to deliberate for a good seven or eight seconds over every touch, and duly registering not a sniff of goal.

Mercifully, bang on half-time our visitors decided to run out of steam, so we did at least get to set up camp in their half thereafter. Not that it prompted any particular injection of creativity, our passing notably remaining multi-touch, but such is life.

In this world of dreary slow build-up play, the two little moments of skill that created the penalty shone out in the gloom like beacons of light from heaven itself, serenaded by choirs of angels for good measure. Where on earth Vertonghen’s delicate chipped pass has been living all these years is anyone’s guess, but it was a thing of daintiness, the sort that would not have been out of place at one of the dolls’ tea-parties that my five year-old niece occasionally invites me to spectate.

Similarly, Soldado’s control with his right clog, of a ball coming over his head at something around chest-height, was enough to prompt the Sheff Utd defender into planting a hand on the ball and almost bursting into tears.

There was not much else to prompt the pulse into life, let alone set it racing. Young Kyle Walker’s recent profession that he is trying to be more Lahm than Alves continues to look an awful career choice, and the mentality typified things. Adebayor reacted to not being given a sniff of the ball by pointedly deciding that he was not going to look for it either, so there.

Just when I started to wonder if the introduction of Paulinho was actually some sort of anti-mirage brought on by the cold, up he popped, to take umpteen touches before passing backwards. This was later followed up by a burst into the box and a mishit shot so weak it almost slowed to a stop and started to reverse.

The entire dirge was accompanied by the sound of thousands of palms slapping foreheads in frustration, and just like that, next week’s task was made infinitely more difficult.  A victory is always lovely, and 1-0 in these circumstances is infinitely better than conceding away goals and whatnot – but this seems like a masterclass in doing it the hard way.

Man City 4-1 Spurs: The Definitive Verdict On All 4 Pens

Since the players could not blow their nose without that wretch awarding another penalty this afternoon, it might simplify things to report on things by giving names to the various spot-kicks. So the one that involved Lampard, Lamela and possibly a gust of wind we shall christen ‘Reginald’; the red card fiasco will be ‘Phyllis’; our glorious opportunity shall be known as ‘Maxine’; and the other one can be ‘Greg’.

Reginald

Opening blows had already been exchanged when Reginald struck. Lamela appeared to tickle Lampard with a feather, and that proved all the encouragement needed for our resident law-enforcer.

A salutary lesson here for young Lamela. Like Dier against Liverpool earlier this season (let’s call that one ‘Jan-Michael’, for simplicity), the alleged foul was as soft as the luxurious fur of some endangered species of animal, but the moral of the story is clear enough – just don’t give the referee the option to make such calls. There was no reason for Lamela to nestle up to Lampard from behind, as the City man waddled into the area. Leave him alone man, leave that to one of those chaps facing the right way. (Although ardent followers of ‘Greg’ might beg to differ, but more on that later).

Greg

I rather lost track of the chronology of the thing, but Greg was the clearest penalty of the lot, involving as it did Monsieur Kaboul’s latest real-time demonstration of his waning powers. Once upon a time this chap was quite the colossus – all barrel chest, thundering pace and perfectly-sculpted eyebrows. These days it seems that he has it in his contract to magic from thin air a seismic blunder, as if to illustrate to young protégé Chiriches in vivid HD precisely how one should create catastrophe in the heart of the defence. Bang on cue he flew into a needless, mis-timed lunge, and Greg was born. ‘Sacre bleu’, poor old Hugo presumably mutters to himself, as he views the carnage ahead of him, before pulling off his latest astonishing save. He deserves better.

Phyllis

Another from the Chiriches School of Complete Mental Absence, there could be no doubt that Fazio yanked back the forward, practically shoving the ref out of the way in order to do so. The whole wretched performance was delivered with all the surreptitiousness of a four year-old standing with hand in cookie jar and chocolate smeared all over their mouth, and for that this oak-tree of a man deserves nothing less than to have a limb hacked off with a rusty saw. It would not be stretching things to suggest that liberal quantities of salt be sprinkled across the bloody stump either.

But a red card? Dash it all, in order to be a ‘goalscoring opportunity’ the ball had to bypass two defenders, the striker had to gallop another ten yards and a nearby elephant had to jump through a flaming hoop. Admittedly, I suspect that if Phyllis had not been awarded our heroes would have found a way to concede anyway, but the nub of the thing is that there was a heck of a sequence of bits and bobs that needed crossing and dotting before the goalscoring chance actually materialised. And as such, the red card was even more cryptic than that slapped in Kyle Naughton’s face against West Ham on the opening day of the season.

Maxine

Easy to forget when you slink off 4-1 down at the culmination of things, but with 20 minutes to go an unlikely heist was on the verge of execution. Penalty to our lot, with a chance to reach parity, if you recall.

In truth Maxine was a devious mistress, because the foul appeared to occur a smidgeon or two outside the area. However, the ref by this stage was well into party mood, pointing to the spot with all the gay abandon of a champagne-quaffing reveller, and frankly it was nice to be remembered by him.

Poor old Soldado’s was not the worst penalty ever – it ticked some of the standard boxes one dreams up for this thing (on target; low; heading more or less for the corner;) – but thus do cookies crumble.

Elsewhere – Capoue & Mason

Aside from the penalties there were all manner of bells, whistles, character developments and sub-plots. And none of them seemed to involve Capoue, on whom I kept a particularly watchful eye today, just for sport. What purpose did the chap serve? He held his position religiously enough, bobbing around five yards in front of the comedy act known as our back-four, but seasons will change and empires rise and fall before the blighter ever makes an intervention of note.

By contrast, young Master Mason bounded around with all the enthusiasm of a young puppy released into the back garden for his daily jaunt. The brio will presumably fade and cynicism settle in (a la Dembele and Soldado, par example), but he did not waste an opportunity to burst a lung for the cause today, and could frequently be sighted trying to socialise with his elders in the attacking triumvirate. Not afraid to fly into a tackle either, his challenge creating our goal.

All told, the outcome was rather a blow to the solar plexus, but for over an hour our lot dug away, and a point looked possible. The drill against Top Four teams seems to be clear enough – keep things tight (through team shape, rather than dazzling defensive prowess from the individual personnel), and scamper forward via Eriksen, Chadli and Lamela at every opportunity. At times this front three looked razor-sharp, but the salient point this season is likely to be whether they can score more at one end than the assorted clowns concede at the other, week in and out.

West Ham – Spurs Preview: Perspective & Moderation, Of All Things

The whiff of misplaced optimism fairly pointedly indicates that a new season is lumbering into view, but things are unmistakeably different this time round. For a start, perspective and moderation, of all things, are dangerously close to breaking out amongst the lilywhite fraternity, in a scenario not too dissimilar to the English attitude at this summer’s World Cup. In common with quite a few Spurs-supporting chums, I cannot help but think that we are careering towards a respectable if unremarkable 6th place finish. Wage bills certainly suggest as much, and while those around us have been parading shiny new players at mind-boggling cost, following last season’s transfer glut the rationale at N17 this time round has veered to the other extreme. Big name signings have been conspicuous by their absence, and expectations have been tempered accordingly.

The drill for the new man at the helm seems to be to make the most of what he inherited, with not a peep of dissent, and not a hint of a big money uber-signing. Handily enough, the job description in its entirety seems to be neatly summarised by The Lamela Situation. Contained within one unsymmetrically-coiffeured and over-expensive Argentine winger lies the conundrum facing our man Pochettino – to extricate good value from someone else’s expensive toys. If anyone can perform such alchemy it ought to be the chap who turned Lallana, Shaw et al into £20m+ players.

Just as well, because in addition to Lamela there are a raft of others who need a switch flicked somewhere – while Soldado poached one rather neatly in last week’s friendly against Schalke, there was also the inevitable wild slap into the North Stand from close range, suggesting that certain bad habits linger. Then there is Chadli, Townsend, Lennon, Dembele, Capoue, Chiriches… the whole dashed lot of them in fact, bar Lloris and Vertonghen.

Such ambitions are for the future. Saturday brings the dreary prospect of a trip to West Ham, and a distinct lack of optimism at AANP Towers. I don’t doubt that we will finish ten or so places above them come next May, but this is their Cup Final, and the painful memory of the corresponding fixture at the tail-end of last season lingers heavily in the memory. On that occasion, the performance of Adebayor and Paulinho within our defensive wall set the tone for a defeat so spineless that passing amoeba congregated pitchside to take notes.  Talent they may lack, but one can certainly see West Ham out-fighting us, and should they get their noses in front I fear we will be in trouble. (That pre-season optimism did not last too long then.)

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

Pochettino – The Pros and Cons

A hearty “What ho!” and pat on the back to our newest glorious leader. Primarily for the sake of idling away the hours until the World Cup begins, AANP has cobbled together some thoughts on this Pochettino blighter, some communicating the general line of ‘yay’, others the less salubrious conclusion of ‘nay’.

Huzzah – He’s Not Tim Sherwood

‘Genetically Not Being Tim Sherwood’ is a positive on the CV at the moment. Not that I want to denigrate Sherwood too heavily, he doubtless did his damnedest for the lilywhite cause, but it seems to have been in the best interests of the club to have him bundled up in a sheet, hit over the head and shoved behind a sofa. Out of sight, out of mind.

Enter stage left Mr Pochettino, the sort of canny fish who seems a little less likely to turn the manager’s job at Spurs into a real-time video diary of how he is making things up as he goes along, and is also considerably less likely to be so angry at life.

All things considered, with talk of van Gaal and Ancelotti about as speculative as a Paulinho 20-yarder, and AANP deeply suspicious of De Boer’s record of umpteen consecutive titles in a Dutch league that is not exactly worshipped far and wide as the pinnacle of European football, we can probably be happy enough with this. Indeed, the general reaction amongst Spurs-supporting chums has been to give an understated nod of satisfaction and invite the man into our homes with the offer of a free splash or two of bourbon. He has our blessing.

Huzzah – He Has Premiership Experience

‘Tis also to be celebrated that the chap has some familiarity with the inner recesses of the Premiership. Last summer’s recruitment of umpteen  players who had never previously set foot on this fair isle turned into a bit of a fiasco, while previous grands fromages who arrived at N17 as complete strangers to the  country seemed to spend a mite too long squinting at the road signs and making sense of tea containing milk, when all along we really needed them to fit snugly into the official club blazer from day one. So where Messrs Gross, Santini and Ramos wasted time scouring their Pannini sticker albums to work out who played in which position, Pochettino can swan in already knowing his Lee Proberts from his Michael Olivers.

Huzzah – His Southampton Team Played Some Entertaining Stuff

One of the main selling points of this blighter is that he seems to have a penchant for good old swash and buckle, when it comes to style of play. Whether or not things will materialise thusly at the Lane remains to be seen, but on a scale of George Graham to Brazil 1970 he seems the sort of chap likely to give a knowing wink when it comes to the tactics board. Heaven help us if we go down the road of ‘Dawson Manning A High Defensive Line’ once more, but things should be fun to watch when we trundle forward.

Huzzah – He Gets The Best Out of Players (Apparently)

A little secret just between friends – a couple of years ago AANP had never heard of either Luke Shaw or Rickie Lambert, while Jay Rodriguez was known to me as the chap who made that film in which Salma Hayek danced around in her skimpies with a snake before everyone turned into vampires (you know the one) and Lallana was the sort of dish that would give me a rum tummy while on holiday. It turns out that Pochettino knows exactly how much spinach to feed these sort of chaps to turn them into the next over-priced young English talent to weaken our knees, and such alchemy would be welcome at the Lane.

Talent is currently oozing out of the sides of our squad and forming unsightly puddles on the ground, but by golly if you pop eleven of our lot onto a pitch together they all start digging at the earth as fast as their little hands allow and bury their heads in the ground before you can bluster “But this is £100 million pound of international talent, dash it.” Someone somewhere needs to beg, steal or borrow the best out of Lamela, Townsend, Chadli, Soldado (Naughton, admittedly, is a lost cause) et al, and Pochettino has previous in this department.

All the sort of thing to put hair on the chest you no doubt agree. However, the long-suffering lilywhite in me has accumulated cynicism by the lorry-load over the years, so it would be highly amiss not to pore over some of the seedier aspects of the career of Pochettino, and howl a prophesy of doom accordingly…

Show Us Yer Medals

In an ideal world, young people would dwell beneath rocks and other convenient crevices until they had something useful to contribute, the only member of the Cyrus clan whose music blared from phones on public transport would be Billy Ray, and Spurs would be managed by a chap with more awards, trophies and medals than you could wave a large stick at. Alas, the Pochettino managerial trophy cabinet is not exactly full to brimming at present. Admittedly, lashings of experience and a sack full of sparkling jugs and whatnot were of little help to Capello when he took charge of England, so such things are no guarantee of success – but the deal would be that much sweeter if Pochettino were a proven title-winner. He will just have to start the habit at N17.

One Good Season

Do 18 good months at Southampton a Top Four manager make? If he had been managing in England for five years would he now be regarded as on a par with, say, Pardew circa 2013 or Pardew circa 2014? The point being, the chap is still a little wet behind the ears, and it is rather difficult to average out his performance when there are but one a half seasons over which to pore.

Can He Handle Proven Players?

‘Tis one thing administering a thousand lashes (or indeed a bedtime lullaby, as the case may be) to young wide-eyed bucks like Shaw and Lallana, who are still making their way in the big wide world, but whether or not Pochettino can command the respect of seasoned millionaire internationals like Paulinho, Adebayor, Vertonghen and chums remains to be seen. AVB’s approach to handling the more experienced chaps at Chelski backfired spectacularly, and his Adebayor gambit here at the Lane was not much better; Pochettino will dashed well need some bright ideas if he does not want to wander back to his office one day to find a bucket of water perched atop the door and some sort of coup taking shape on the training pitch.

This Man Lost to Tim Sherwood. Twice.

Not the be-all and end-all of things by any means, but to lose once to Tim Sherwood can be glossed over as being a mite careless, to lose twice, in the space of half a season, is the sort blot that no man of substance ought to have on his escutcheon. It ought to matter not in the grand scheme of things, but it is not terrifically encouraging, what?

THE VERDICT

Well, there is no verdict as such – sorry to mislead. The chap is here, he seems a bright enough young egg, let’s rally around and cheer him to the rafters.

There is possibly more pressure on Levy than Pochettino with this appointment, but in defence of our follicly-challenged supremo, the appointments of AVB and now Pochettino point to a certain type of manager and set-up.

Moreover, the five-year contract suggests that Levy genuinely does want to perch in his hammock with feet up and a good book, without having to march down the High Road and firing and hiring everyone within sight each time the clocks change. Amen to that. Should we finish mid-table, then the rumblings of discontent will no doubt begin again, but I rather hope that even if we miss the Top Four (as seems fairly probable) and rather make a hash of things all round, we nevertheless persist with the manager, personnel and style.

5 Belated Highlights From The Win vs Dnipro

With apologies for the tardiness, and in no particular order (actually that is an untruth – the highlight was without doubt the mass brawl):

1. The Glory of the On-Pitch Melee

Media sages may drone on that ‘Nobody likes to see that’, but in truth there are fewer more entertaining sights in football than an on-field scrum, and that which ensued on Thursday night delivered hilarity of the highest order. Handbags were swung, fingers were jabbed, naughty words were shrieked, and we were also treated to the quite magnificent sight of the lad who received the red card bursting into tears and going beserk, before being shrouded in an Adebayor strait-jacket. Quite possibly the most fun we have seen at the Lane all season, and all topped off by the glorious Schadenfreude of seeing our visitors’ early time-wasting tactics rather spin round and nip them.

2. Adebayor’s Prowess

It is easy to hammer on about Adebayor, his impact and whatnot, but that second goal in particular was absolutely ripping stuff. For years in this corner of the interweb we have banged on about the need for a Drogba-esque brick outhouse of a forward to lead the line, and while Adebayor’s build is perhaps more stick insect than rabid wildebeest, the strength and technique to pluck the ball from the heavens on his chest, hold off the surrounding scrum and wrong-foot the keeper was scraped from the film that sits atop the cream.

3. Eriksen’s String-Pulling Masterclass

With Dnipro cunningly sitting back in the first half and forcing us to use poor old Daws as a rather unlikely creative fulcrum in the first half, it was a blessed relief that having gone behind our heroes finally bucked up their ideas, with Master Eriksen doing a sterling job of pulling the strings. Drifting infield and treating us to his full array of cute little diagonal passes, the young imp absolutely masterminded that ten-minute blitz, and much that was good either side of it too.

Admittedly this u-turn in attitude, creativity and movement did rather beg the question why they had to go two goals down before rolling up their sleeves, and indeed a more pertinent question of why the absolute dickens Eriksen was deemed surplus to requirements last Sunday as we flopped at Norwich – but Thursday night at least made it pretty clear to whom we should look for inspiration in the coming weeks.

4. Using Numerical Advantage

Many a time and oft has a team of 11 run out of fizz against a well-marshalled 10, but by golly our heroes wasted little time in identifying the pressure point and applying all they had to it until the opposition squealed. With our full-backs hugging the touchline, Eriksen and chums were able to ping the ball wide or cut infield according to the whim of the moment, and Dnipro simply did not have enough bodies in the vicinity to prevent it. A fourth goal might have relieved the pressure, but in the main the job was done well.

5. Poor Old Soldado

Even the most hard-hearted and cynical amongst us would have felt a little sorry for Senor Soldado, who to his credit took his offside goal like a wizened old pro. I hesitate to suggest that the floodgates will open once he scores – a likelier scenario is another 10-game drought, on current form – but the poor lamb is beavering away, bless him.

Norwich 1-0 Spurs: Midfield Anonymity, Defensive Comedy & Soldado

Confusing I know, and I realise that if the attention wanders for a day or two one loses track completely, but just so everyone is clear – this week the dial is being flicked over to “CRISIS”.

Midfield

Not that that seemed to register with our heroes. Bless them, they had to play twice this week don’t you know, and chug through passport control and squat into their Easyjet seats and whatnot, so it was unsurprising that a few of them looked like they were just biding time until they received a leg massage. The central midfield mob looked anything but razor-sharp, with Paulinho ambling around like a passenger on the tube who sticks his earphones in, opens his Kindle and resolutely avoids eye-contact with anyone in the hope that the blasted journey might finish a bit faster if nobody notices him. Meanwhile Bentaleb did a pretty smart job of studiously avoiding any meaningful contribution – and as if by magic our heroes had reduced the contribution of three central midfielders to two, and at times just the one. A nifty piece of legerdemain, which can have observers rubbing their eyes and scratching their heads in bewilderment.

Defence

More entertainment was to be had behind them, as Messrs Rose, Dawson and Naughton tootled around like little wind-up cars that had been released across the carpet. ‘Twas a good day for all Dawson Bingo enthusiasts, as he over-committed and sold himself nice and early, made some of those heroic full-stretch blocks, won a few meaty headers and found time for a caution, all in all a fine advert for the centre-backery of Monsieur Kaboul. The sooner his latest malady is remedied the better for all mankind.

Attack

What on earth goes on in poor Soldado’s head is anyone’s guess, but the young wretch seems physically unable to score. Rather like the chap in the new Robocop film, his programming simply forbids him to do it, which is a dashed shame because as well as looking the dickens of a imbecile whenever he blasts the ball wide, had he taken the chance that was presented to him on a salver, with gleaming cutlery and a glass of vintage red, we would have been well set for all three points.

One might bemoan that wit and ingenuity were nowhere to be seen, but such protestation would be quibbled by the pedants amongst us, for there it was, huddled up on the subs bench watching life tick by. Maddening stuff, as our mob by and large just ambled through the motions, apart from the late, token attempt to batter their way through in the closing stages when Townsend came on to liven things up.

So the drill now is that the thumping of Newcastle is a thing of the past, and crisis time is upon us again because the Top Four are disappearing over the hills. Until next week presumably. Mean time we can all plunge our knives Sherwood-wards, and lament and howl and look longingly at the gap above us.

Swansea 1-3 Spurs: First XI vs Squad Players

Bless them, Swansea genuinely are a team I would like to play every week. Like some sort of Tottenham Hostpur-lite, they really do not look the sort of troupe who like to get their shirts dirty with any of that tackling nonsense (although Chiriches and his pretty little face might beg to differ), and they would happily spend all day pinging short passes to one another if they could, even if doing so means creating all manner of difficulty for themselves in their own area, just because it all looks so pretty. In the final analysis, it feels a little bit like watching our first eleven playing the squad players.

In the opening half hour it did admittedly seem that our back-four were but one killer pass away from being rather brutally dismembered, but with each passing week it becomes ever more apparent that this is actually just a hilarious optical illusion of the Sherwood Era, and that Chiriches and Dawson actually have everything under control at all times, and are secretly smoking cigars rather than breaking sweat.

A pat on the back too for young Master Walker, who went steaming up the line with such vim and vigour that one imagines he eschewed the bus ride and instead sprinted all the way back to North London. Bentaleb also toddled around with the air of a young man who had arrived at the office with pencils sharpened and a nice clear agenda for the day. It is easy to see why the Brains Trust ’14 like the cut of his jib, for as jibs go his is cut with a pleasing mix of aggression and uncomplicated passing.

However, the shiniest star is saved for young Eriksen, who seemed rather at ease with life in a more central position. Indeed, the forfeiting of Soldado for Chadli had the salubrious side-effect of allowing the midfielders generally to buzz into each other’s territory whenever they spotted something that took their fancy, and this being Swansea it didn’t particularly matter who did what. Chadli himself did not exactly blow up anybody’s skirt, but the principle served well enough, and suggests that when fit again the future could look bright for Lamela.

Dawson Watch

AANP would not be the grumpy soul he is without a whinge or two about glorious captain, and indeed in the first half boxes were duly ticked as he went sliding full pelt in typically whole-hearted and ill-time manner at one point, and then executed that scarcely believable two-handed shove on a chap in the penalty area, a manoeuvre rather generously ignored by the ref. But by golly all was forgiven in the second half, when of all things he rolled a perfectly-weighted diagonal pass inside the full-back and into the path of young Master Walker, leading directly to our second goal. Who would have thought the old man to have so much cunning in him?

Other Highlights

As well as Dawson’s Modric moment, there was also Kyle Walker’s quite glorious dummy in the final moments, that left some poor Swansea bean on his posterior, and the Eriksen cross for the opening goal, that curled so viciously I felt a little dirty just watching it. To their credit, both Dawson and Chiriches did the honourable things in central defence with minimal nonsense, particularly against an opponent such as Bony, who appears to have much of the barnstorm in his constitution.

A cheery day’s work then, and the glint in his eye will tell you that Sherwood has his little mitts set on that Manager of the Month award. The fixtures may have been kind, but the football is fun, the goals are rolling in at a healthy lick and the Top Four remains within spitting distance.

Swansea – Spurs Preview: The Striking Selection Dilemma… Again

And so the interminable wait continues, amongst just about every Spurs fan of my acquaintance, for the Sherwood bubble to burst, so that those sharpened knives can be plunged with gusto. Nevertheless, it’s four wins and a draw in the league, and another win or draw would seem to be on the agenda today. The approach these days appears to be kill or be killed, so while the defence bears a permanent ‘skin-of-its-teeth’ take on life, up the other end the Eriksen-Adebayor-Soldado-Lennon axis poodles along in pretty fine fettle, and one or two of that mob will presumably be to the fore again today.

Depressingly enough there won’t be too many more opportunities to ponder this in the future, but Sherwood will presumably be scrawling in ‘Credit’ and ‘Debit’ columns respectively the various permutations of replacing Soldado with Defoe. I jolly well know where my own preference lies, but I presume we will again be treated to 70 minutes of Soldado sliding in to knee the ball up into the stands and pick himself up with that rather angry expression on his face as if it’s really all our fault for shouting at the telly-box in the first place.

The rest of the team picks itself these days, and that there is now consistency in team selection makes a welcome change from the slightly more haphazard take on things of the previous regime. The downside seems to be that one cannot stretch a limb these days without crashing into another soul who wants to hitch a lift on the Defoe Express and set off for pastures new. Holtby, Capoue and Chadli have all apparently toyed with the idea in recent days, and Lamela’s name is rarely far from a transfer gossip column. All of which makes me wonder what has happened, six months on, to the summer blueprint of creating a squad for all seasons, which was so enthusiastically endorsed by the suits in the corridors of power.

Meaty stuff I’m sure you agree, but a sizeable digression from the task in hand. I rather like watching Swansea, truth be told, and given their keep-ball style, and our new-fangled approach of back-to-front-as-quickly-as-humanly-possible this ought to make for entertaining viewing. As ever I rather fear for our defence, but all things considered we ought to out-score this lot.

Man Utd 1-2 Spurs: The Sublime, The Less Sublime & The Ironic

In this part of the interweb nothing really set the juices flowing like a perfectly-weighted diagonal pass that rips open a defence like a dismembered carcass. If it is played inside the full-back so much the better, and if, on top of all of the above, it is threaded through the legs of a defender en route to its destination, then it jolly well deserves a bonus point.

On which note, Señor Soldado can take a bow. The ball may bounce uncontrollably of the wrong limb whenever he gets within spitting distance of the net, but if ever a pass deserved to be dressed up in a tux and immaculate bow-tie, given a full two minutes applause and awarded a shiny statuette it was Soldado’s in the first half to set up Lennon for his early one-on-one.

While wittering on about the forward line, Adebayor, it seems, continues to eat his five a day, and another rip-roaring performance ensued. Whether holding up the ball, taking on Wayne Rooney of all people in a mano-e-mano tussle by our own corner flag or showing his contempt for that old gravity malarkey by hanging in the air for nigh on a minute and a half in order to head home our first, the chap bounded around with absolute lashings of verve and eagerness. Oh that the secret to his enthusiasm could be bottled and recycled on a weekly basis.

Elsewhere on the spectrum stretching from Most Welcome to Dashed Infuriating striking performances was young Harry Kane. He may fit into his lilywhite shirt like a steroid-enhanced oak tree but there the similarity with Monsieur Drogba ends. In his defence, Master Kane was almost certainly put through a condensed army boot-camp session during half-time, as that would reasonably explain why the lad looked absolutely shattered from the moment he puffed on to the moment he panted off at the final whistle, presumably just seconds before collapsing in a muscular heap in the tunnel. With fresh legs needed to hold up our attacking play and chase down every United defender in sight, Kane seemed to spend his minutes treading through wet concrete. (Although the moment when he stood offside and deliberately whacked the ball into the crowd did make me chortle.)

T’Other End of the Pitch

Hats tipped at a jaunty angle to the defence – and their chums from elsewhere – for holding firm in that nervy final quarter. Ranting about Dawson’s footballing prowess or lack thereof comes about as naturally to yours truly as letting the eyes glaze over and humming the theme to Beverly Hills Cop while the various marvellous womenfolk in my life rant about my lack of attention or some such thing, but if our intrepid skipper does one thing well it is put his body on the line for a humdinger of a backs-to-the-wall defensive effort. Defending deep removes from the equation his ‘pace’, and lets him get on with the meaty business of repelling the myriad crosses and shots fired in, and thus did he strain the sinews with gay old abandon for the cause.

None of which was quite enough to detract from the shortcomings of the boy Rose, who dribbled into trouble, was effortlessly dribbled past or misplaced his passes with fairly metronomic regularity. Meanwhile the jury remains in a quandary over Chiriches, who mixes sterling interventions with moments of thinking himself the Romanian Pele and trying to dribble past everyone in sight. The midfield seemed well drilled however, each seeming to pick the right moment to bomb forward and the right moment to roll up sleeves and muck in.

There is a growing sentiment that Lloris has not quite been the same dapper chap he once was since getting that clout on the head, and there was certainly a hairy moment when he gave a Gallic shrug and opted to flatten deserving miscreant Ashley Young. However, one cared rather little about this by the end of proceedings as he flung himself hither, thither and every point in between in order to repel our hosts, antics that were probably worth a hat-trick, if you get my drift.

A 100% Record in 2014

So far things are bright and beautiful on the good ship Sherwood. The 4-4-2 selection at the outset certainly gained a nod of admiration from these quarters, for showing, if nothing else, a willingness to live by the sword, even if carnage did appear to beckon, but for an hour or so we played a mighty impressive counter-attacking game, preventing United from fashioning any particularly straightforward chances while carving open a clutch of glorious ones ourselves. Things certainly took a wobbly swerve after United pulled back their goal, but all’s well etc. The only shame was that the delicious irony, of the big decisions going against United at Old Trafford, appeared to be lost on the humourless chappie manning their helm.

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