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Spurs match reports

Spurs 2-0 Wolves: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Low-Tempo Stuff

Given that even when the Top Four was realistic our lot hardly dashed about the place with any sense of frenzied urgency, it was perhaps unsurprising that today, with the only available carrot being the slightly wonky, shrivelled one of Europa football (or the even smaller, even more shrivelled one of the Europa Conference, whatever that is), the mood amongst those tasked with doing the necessaries in N17 was set to ‘Leisurely’.

Not that it mattered much, as Wolves had switched off their mood setting entirely, in order to sit on a beach and sip something punchy, but there was a curious gentleness to the way in which we gradually exerted our superiority.

Yes, Kane hit the post in the opening jabs, with the sort of shot out of thin air of which he seems to be the sole licence-holder; and yes, we twice had shots thwacked off the line with the ‘keeper seemingly distracted by the beach-side view; but there was none of that zip about our build-up play that makes the pulse quicken and arrests the attention.

The Sky cameras caught the spirit of the thing by doing their best to not show our opener when it did eventually come, preferring to dwell on their narrative de jour about a man from Sunday league football repeatedly heading away crosses (a plot-line with which they were so obsessed that they pretended it continued long after it had stopped, bizarrely awarding the bean in question the day’s rosette despite him being wildly out of position, and then comically parked on his rear for the first goal; and too slow to get to the rebound for the second: man of the match indeed).

It was not until early in the second half that our lot began showing any appetite for the thing, and we were treated to the first sights of free-flowing football coursing through the veins. Again, probably worth emphasising that nothing beyond third gear was really necessary, but given the talent on display, and the pliant nature of our guests, the first half in particular was oddly muted.

However, it was still comfortably sufficient, and should an eager student ever choose to write an essay on ebbs and flows of this particular match then “Two-Nil” would be a title that captured entirely appropriately the game’s dynamics as well as its scoreline.

2. Dele: Delightful and Exasperating

In terms of the specifics, Dele’s performance was an odd mix of the delightful and exasperating.

In the Debit column, the chap was guilty on a couple of occasions of the sort of carelessness that would have been excoriated by notable former managers who were sticklers for that sort of thing and who, it might be suggested, carried about themselves particularly needless vendettas.

In one instance he gave away a pretty needless free-kick in a dangerous area, via the medium of an unnecessary and pretty unsubtle shove to the back; on another occasion he tried to be rather too cute for his own good inside his own penalty area of all places, giving away possession, when anyone in the Sky commentary box could have advised that simply hacking the ball away to kingdom come would have had him lauded as the game’s standout performer.

One might point out that the nature of the chap’s play means that such errors are simply part and parcel of the whole Dele experience. Here, after all, is an egg who seems to take to heart the anthem “Go out there and express yourself”, generally treating the pitch as his playground and the match as an opportunity to roll out as many party tricks as possible (witness the glorious first half nutmeg).

Mercifully, the Wolves players were too busy admiring the bathing suits of their fellow holiday-makers to do anything with these gifts, but young Dele might do well to give some consideration to the time and the place, when next he dips into his box marked ‘Casual Possession Giveaway’.

More prominently, however, Dele’s attacking instincts came to the fore today. He seemed quite happy to take a prominent role in affairs, availing himself of a pass at every opportunity and stationing himself pretty centrally throughout. The man did not shirk the challenge.

And, without exactly dominating things (that accolade fell upon the Wolves chappie who occasionally cleared a cross, don’t you know) Dele made enough deft contributions to swing the thing.

His role in the odd sequence of post-hitting was impressively delivered. In the first place he won possession in the old-fashioned way, emerging victorious in the often-neglected tangle of legs known as ‘tackling’; and then picked precisely the right moment to play his killer pass. I don’t mind admitting it was a moment that deeply affected me, having spent many of my years of Dele-watching berating him for hanging onto the ball for too long. On this occasion, I bowed in the presence of his greatness. He hung onto the ball for precisely the appropriate amount of time, and then played a perfectly weighted pass – through the opponent’s legs, of course – into the path of Kane. The whole thing deserved a goal; what it got, instead, was two successive shots hitting the two different posts.

And then for our second goal, I was rather impressed by the manner in which Dele first sprayed the ball stage left, for Reguilon to run onto (albeit Reguilon made rather a production of things out there, sliding and scampering and all sorts); and secondly, on receiving the ball back from Reguilon, in picking out Bale. Bale’s shot was then parried, and Hojbjerg completed the routine; but Dele did enough to merit at least a nomination for Best Supporting Actor.

3. Lo Celso’s Deeper Role

Ryan Mason it appears, is not one of those fellows who thinks that the key to life is to dive in and change as many things about it as he can get his hands on. For Mason, the status quo seems to hold a certain charm, and as such, having deployed Lo Celso in a deep-ish role once, he has been happy to extend the experiment a little while longer.

Personally, I am rather enamoured of the role itself and its current occupier. Particularly in a game such as this, something of a free hit given the quality and mentality of the opponent, there is hardly need for multiple defensive types to prowl the midfield looking for fires to put out. The use of Lo Celso then, is primarily forward-thinking, tasked with picking up the ball from the back-line and transferring to the forward-line, with minimum fuss and maximum efficiency.

(It should be noted that, in addition to the forward-looking stuff, Lo Celso does not mind scampering around to win back possession either; he might not necessarily be the most gifted exponent of the more destructive arts, but he knows what’s expected.)

But it was going forward that I rather enjoyed Lo Celso’s mentality. Now, to be clear, I thought this week, as last, he could have done more of it – demanding the ball and making it clear to all in the vicinity that he was the go-to man for these sort of jobs. But nevertheless, his general mentality, of wanting to create whenever he received the ball, went down well at AANP Towers.

As if to illustrate the point, we were then treated to fifteen minutes or so of the slightly dreary alternative, when young Master Winks bounded on to replace Lo Celso, and promptly set about biffing the ball backwards every time it was given to him. Sometimes Lo Celso hit and sometimes he missed, but pretty much every time his first instinct was at least to go forward.

4. Hitting the Woodwork

At one point (at what I am tempted to call a lull in proceedings, but which description does not necessarily narrow down the timeframe), the TV bods flashed up a stat to the effect that our heroes have hit the woodwork more than any other team this season. 23, if my eyes did not deceive.

Pertinent stuff, given that we were treated to this very scenario thrice this afternoon. Now one might wail and lament our ill fortune at this, but the stat did remind me of a moment in my formative years, when on returning from a school football match and receiving an enquiry from my old man, AANP Senior, as to how I got on, I informed him that while I did not score I did at least hit the post. This earnest communique, as I recall, met with a pretty unforgiving eye and the brusque response from the esteemed relative that he would give me credit if I were aiming for the post; and that feedback rather ended the back-and-forth.

It’s a mantra I apply to this day. Hitting the post 23 times is deserving of little credit or sympathy given that the pretty unambiguous aim of the exercise is expressly not to hit the post, but the structure contained therein.

All that said, the little burst of activity that saw Kane and Dele hit the two posts with successive shots did make the head swim a bit and the curses flow. One can only imagine what the kindly folk who neighbour AANP Towers made of the assorted yips and yelps that doubtless emerged from within as the passage of play unfolded.

Mercifully, neither the woodwork nor VAR nor any other excuses needed to be wheeled out on this occasion. A curious game for sure, not least because of the odd passivity of our opponents, but a comfortable win is always a delight.

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Spurs match reports

Spurs 4-0 Sheffield United: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Mason, Jose and Attacking Football

There are presumably countless pros and cons to Ryan Mason’s managerial style, but one in particular seems to distinguish him, namely that quality of not being Jose Mourinho. And proof of this, lest it were needed, seemed to be evidenced an hour before kick-off yesterday when the teamsheets trickled through, to reveal a team notably bereft of defensive shackles.

Hugo was present and correct, ‘tis true, as were a couple of token centre-backs. But, with the opposition being already-relegated Sheffield United, the acid test seemed to be how the remaining sets of limbs might be scattered about the place. And where Jose would typically have opted for two of those sorts created by nature to sit deep in midfield and block, plus wingers selected on account of their work-rate in helping out the full-backs, Mason to his credit concluded that what the circumstances demanded were seven pairs of attacking legs, all stationed north of the halfway line.

Thus we were treated to the most refreshing sight of Hojbjerg given lone sentry duty, while Lo Celso was instructed to roll out his best Luka Modric impression, sitting deep but with a licence to create. Dele was given the honour of the Number 10 (Ndombele seemingly the odd man out in this reshuffle), behind Bale, Son and Kane, with both full-backs heartily encouraged to bound into the final third and make merry as they pleased.

In truth, I thought we lacked a little of the non-stop intensity that one expects from the off, but with that much attacking quality on show, and particularly when up against a team as dreadful as Sheffield United, it hardly mattered.

Now in the interests of fairness it is worth pointing out that under Jose, when not sitting deep and throwing away leads our lot did carve out an occasional tendency to make hay by the bundle, and score three, four or more of an afternoon.

However, two elements of our play seemed to distinguish this lot from the Jose Vintage. Exhibit A was the countless number of times that a lilywhite shirt won back possession high up the pitch. This routine was aided to a degree by the fact that United’s project to find new and exciting ways to be dreadful included an endless stream of rubbish clearances straight to our players, but nevertheless most of our number distinguished themselves by nipping in, stealing the ball from United toes and, still nipping, shoving it forward for our next attack.

And Exhibit B was the fact that having gone a goal up our lot did not then batten down every available hatch and retreat to within twenty yards of their own goal for the remainder of the game, inviting pressure. With attacking inclinations they had begun proceedings, and with attacking inclinations they remained.

We’ll never know how Jose would have set up for this particular game, and in the coming weeks we’ll know a bit more about how Mason plans to set up against more obdurate mobs; but this felt like a pretty breezy antidote to a lot of the rot that Jose had been peddling in our back garden.

2. Dele Alli

Few things summed up the Jose era quite like the pointless shunning of Dele Alli, and on his restoration yesterday I thought he made a decent stab of things.

Now on relaying this sentiment to my Spurs-supporting chum Dave yesterday, I seemed to provoke unfettered apoplexy, so this communication probably merits particular care. For clarity, when I suggest that Dele made a decent stab of things I am not intimating that I considered his performance to constitute some sort of messianic hybrid of Pele, Hoddle and Messi rolled into one.

It was more that I thought he did not shirk the challenge but seemed to wander about the grounds demanding the ball, and when he received it generally seemed willing to snuffle around looking for useful things he might do with it. Some worked well, some worked less well, but for a man who has been starved of football for a year or so it was good to see him essentially getting the hang of things again.

In the debit column I did think he might have made more forward bursts, especially with Kane peddling that tiresome drop-deep act of his once again. Opportunity knocked for Dele to surge into the area a little more frequently than he did. Furthermore, the mildly exasperating tendency remains for him to hang on the ball for far longer than is necessary, and I suppose if he is to be reintegrated we will need to re-learn to take that particular rough with the smooth.

But in general he seemed happy to muck in with the rest of them. Watching him I was reminded of how Eriksen would often shimmer out of existence for great patches of games; there did not seem to be any of that with Dele. He might have been more effective, but he at least was always willing to be involved.

Moreover, it seemed to escape the attention of the commentators at least that he played a deliciously-weighted ball inside the full-back to release Aurier in setting up the third goal. The man who assists the assist rarely wins many plaudits (it seems only right at this point once again to name-check Luka Modric) but Dele’s pass here was as skilful as it was important.

And for good measure he won his challenge in setting up the assist for the fourth goal too. Not the sort of stuff that attracted neon lights, but a pretty handy return to the fold nonetheless.

3. Bale

Understandably enough those neon lights were hogged by Gareth Bale. It is an odd quirk of football that a man who scores a hat-trick must be placed upon a pedestal that decrees him to have had a magnificent time of things, irrespective of whether or not he actually played well aside from his three moments. Their general contribution can be middling, their work-rate low or passing accuracy off, but score three goals and all other ills are forgiven and it’s a nine out of ten at the very least.

And yesterday I thought Bale pottered about the place well enough, without dominating proceedings. That is to say, it was not the case that every time he received the ball he had his opponent on toast, nor that he spent the evening terrorising all who stood before him. In fact, for the opening half hour I though he and Aurier, in keeping with the collective, were a little lackadaisical.

But then this seems to be Bale’s way, at least in his second coming. He potters around, probing at his man in fairly humdrum fashion, until suddenly he unleashes a flash of absolute genius that results in a goal. If you want someone to dictate the game and run amok non-stop then look elsewhere; but if you need a game-changing moment, then shove this man to the front of the queue and stick a crown on his head and mitre in his hand.

All three of his goals were expertly taken yesterday, and each seemed to indicate a chap suddenly springing from third gear to first in the blink of an eye. Must be a dashed nuisance to defend against.

I was particularly enamoured of his second. The gallop at full pelt the entire length of the pitch had a pleasing aesthetic quality to it, and the finish, both in wrong-footing the ‘keeper and in lashing it into the top corner, was ripe old stuff.

4. Aurier

This was undoubtedly one of the better days in the Aurier catalogue – but then we all knew that here was a chap born to do his best work going forward.

With United limited to one shot at goal throughout, Aurier’s defensive responsibilities were at an absolute minimum, and he took full advantage, seeming rather to enjoy himself by the end of things. All the more impressive if, as seemed to be the case, he was fasting until midway through the second half.

Sterner tests will await – and in fact I’m not sure he’ll ever have an easier time of things – but credit where due, the onus was on him, and Senor Reguilon on the left, to provide the attacking overloads on the flanks, and both took to the task with gusto. Curiously enough, neither seemed wedded to the touchline, both taking every opportunity to head infield as appropriate, but the ends seemed to justify the means.

As I suspect is the case with many Spurs fans, I’ve been compiling the list of those I’d like to stay and those I’d like gone in whatever brave new world transpires, and Aurier sits firmly on the latter list; but when we’re on the front-foot and defensive responsibilities can largely be glossed over, the chap certainly has his merits.

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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

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Spurs match reports

Fiorentina 1-1 Spurs: Naughty Dele Alli & 5 Other Lilywhite Notes

1. Who’s a Naughty Boy?

Every man and his dog in the television studios greedily lapped up the opportunity to pontificate like there was no tomorrow over Dele Alli’s latest indiscretion, and in truth one can understand it. The seasoned lilywhite observers will no doubt be well aware of young Master Alli’s penchant for the naughty. The furtive elbow into the ribs here, the trailing leg there and a generally irresistible urge to start a push-and-shove with anyone in the vicinity at least once per game.

Those of us who have been brought up on a strict diet of powderpuff Tottenham midfielders who can spray a delightful pass but would rather run for the hills than go crunching into a 50-50 will frankly be delighted with the attitude of young Alli. The last thing anyone wants is for the chap to retreat into his shell and pootle along in the shadows of each game – and in all honesty the chances of that actually happening are just about nil. More than likely, we will probably have to resign ourselves to the fact that every now and then Alli will be yanked aside by an eagle-eyed ref and told in no uncertain terms to remove himself from proceedings. So be it, for as anyone who has ever stared up at a guillotine will know, there comes a time in life when you just have to take the rough with the smooth. (Whether I will be quite so sanguine when picking up the pieces of his red cards is another matter). On a related note – worth a wager, for those who are that way inclined, on the fellow getting himself sent off at the Euros, what with the continental referees and all that nonsense.

2. Confidence – A Preference to the Habitual Voyeur

I have not paid too much attention to the vagaries of Italian club football since the halcyon days of Gazza, Winter Signori et al, to the glorious soundtrack of “GOOOOOOLAAAAAZZZZOOOOO” back in the early ‘90s. As such I have absolutely no idea what sort of standard Fiorentina are these days, or the strength of their XI that toddled out. Either way, it was pretty striking that until the (dashed fortunate) equaliser our heroes looked relatively comfortable. In the first half in particular we looked every inch the home side, such was our level of possession, and confidence on the ball. Given that we started similarly against City on Sunday, it did make me wonder, when exactly was the last time we played an away match in the traditional style of an away team? The point I’m harping about is that it seems a further testament to the progress of our heroes, that irrespective of opposition, venue or general prevailing social norms, even as an away team they tend to yank hold of initiative, confidence positively coursing through the veins, and just strut about like they own the place.

3. Protection for the Back-Four & The Bentaleb Scenario

For all that first half dominance, there were nevertheless a couple of occasions when Fiorentina worked their way jolly close to our goal, even at nil-nil and nil-one. The usual Dier-shaped protection that hovers in front of (and alongside) the back-four was rather conspicuously absent, and neither Mason nor Carroll quite delivered the same meaty chunks of goodness. There is no parallel universe in existence in which the replacement of Carroll with Dembele is a bad idea, and naturally enough the latter’s demonstration of muscle proved a marked contrast to the neat, tidy but lightweight bits and bobs of the former. Nevertheless, the point was made – Dier reaches the parts that various other central midfielders cannot.

Amidst all this the absence of Bentaleb was a curious one – it may be that he was simply injured? But if not, conspiracy theorists the world over will be shelving their moon-landing projects and tucking into the Great Bentaleb Disappearance story instead.

Pochettino for all his lovely cuddliness evidently does not suffer fools gladly, so it may be that Bentaleb has fallen foul of the law. Obviously heaven forbid that anyone should question the judgement of the great man, but it would be a wistful AANP who digested such a decision, if indeed such a decision has been made, because Bentaleb bears his canines with a darned sight more menace than Mason or Carroll when patrolling in front of the back line.

4. Game-Changer

Cruise control was rather rudely interrupted in the second half, by that deflected goal. It would be rather rich of us to complain about bad luck after Sunday’s events, but nevertheless we are probably entitled to take thirty seconds out of our rigorous daily routines to feel sorry for ourselves for the manner in which that equaliser looped in. Somewhere in the mists of time, Paul Parker and Peter Shilton are no doubt offering sympathetic inclines of the head.

That said, Mason could have broken into a gallop and worked up a full-blooded body-fling in an attempt to prevent the shot; and while Vorm’s travel bag is no doubt full to the brim with benefit of the doubt proffered from all sides, I am inclined to think he might have done better than that tangled flap. But then here at AANP Towers we always did prefer the stick to the carrot.

Once the goal was scored the match changed fairly dramatically. Credit to our heroes for weathering the initial storm that followed, and as the game edged towards its final toot events panned out in a manner that could be appropriately described as ‘To and Fro’, but the whole binge was far less comfortable than it might have been. Without exactly being overrun, we could well have lost the thing.

5. The Attack

For all the energy, and confidence, and possession, and all those similarly positive epithets that seem to be plastered over our every performance these days, the nagging concern remains at AANP Towers that when it comes to the final third, our lot are still one or two kippers short of a full English breakfast. An attempt was made to beef things up in the closing stages by bringing on Kane for Son, but it’s the supply-line as much as the anointed striker – we still lack a certain je ne sais quoi when it comes to carving up an opponent as if gutting a fish. The occasional neat diagonal pass does not an irresistible force make.

In fact, the majority of our attacking thrust comes from any of our four full-backs, and Davies and Trippier certainly flew the flag with gusto today, at least when on the front foot. Davies’ latest forward burst brought a penalty, and by the end of the game Trippier appeared to be our principal attacking outlet, pitching up every sixty seconds or so on the corner of the opposition penalty area with a cheery wave, ready to whip in his latest offering.

6. “Vital” Away Goal

It is, of course, a legal requirement that any away goal scored in the first leg of a European tie is automatically classified as “vital”. Non-vital away goals simply do not exist. Which makes it all the more regrettable that the whole fabric of the European away-goal continuum could have been broken if we had capitalised upon our opening hour serenity by pilfering a couple more away goals, rendering them all non-vital, and turning things into a straightforward three-goal lead to defend at the Lane.

I’ll start again. In the grand scheme of things, one-one away from home can be greeted with cautious optimism, but this does feel rather like doing things the traditionally Tottenham way. Advantage lilywhite, but plenty of perspiration still to go. The nifty squad rotation was a qualified success, but next week will be no cakewalk and so on and so forth. You get 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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Spurs news

WBA 1-1 Spurs: 3 Lilywhite Observations

1. Lloris Worth A Goal A Game

Once upon a time, in the big, cuddly teddy bear days of Martin Jol (blessed be his name), there ran a theory in AANP Towers that between them, Paul Robinson and Ledley King (even blesseder be his good name) were worth a goal to us every game, by virtue of their last-ditch heroics. Not a particularly watertight theory, you understand, no randomized control trial or pivot tables or anything like that, but certainly one spouted with the greatest seriousness in the watering-holes of North London by yours truly.

Fast forward a decade or so, and a similarly evidence-lite theory is beginning to surface around Monsieur Lloris. We come to take these things for granted now, in this halcyon era of unbeaten runs and all-action pressing and whatnot, but last week against Chelski and yesterday, quite remarkably, against West Brom, he pulled off saves of the absolute highest order. Both of which seem to have drifted a little past the public consciousness, ensconced as they were in the midst of a couple of draws that ranked slightly higher on the huff-and-puff scale than on the corresponding blow-your-skirt-up-with-non-stop-pulsating-action axis. But the point remains – Lloris has done the preventative equivalent of scoring a sensational goal, in both of the last couple of games.

2. Absence Makes The Heart Grow A Mite Fonder

Those of you cursed to have been within muttering distance of yours truly last weekend would have had to put up with assorted grumbles along the general line of young Mason’s energy and enthusiasm are all well and good for general Premiership fare, but the blighter has always seemed to lack that dose of je ne sais quoi that elevates a man to the higher echelons of these things in the crunch fixtures. He certainly puts in a shift – last week being a case in point – but in the biggest games of the season simply tearing around the place is not sufficient. As a replacement for Dele Alli, in a game against the champions, the decisive spark he failed to provide. Hardly a damning criticism, more just the genera way of things.

Yesterday however, with Mason trussed up in swathes of bandages somewhere off-stage, it dawned on me as the second half wore on that by golly we could use some of that energy, bite and young incandescence with life, with which he typically bounds in either headless or head-bearing fashion.  West Brom were beginning to win every loose ball, and when even Eric Dier’s trademark trundle was failing to win us the 50-50s, the thought occurred that maybe we might have benefited from removing one of the front four, who deal more in sparkle and fancy trickery, and bringing on a man like Mason, who has somewhat more about him of the canine straining at the leash. Just to wrest back control of the thing.

All academic of course, but funny how absence makes the heart grow stronger in these situations.

3. The Centre-Backs – Only Human

In a train of thought that veered rather dramatically off the rails, I ended up last night wondering what the opposite of ‘invincible’ might be. Just plain ‘vincible’ seemed to tick the boxes, except that it’s not really a word, which seemed a fairly critical stumbling block. All of which came about as I observed Messrs Vertonghen and Toby going about their gainful employment yesterday.

No doubt about it, this pair are as solid and reliable a centre-back combo as we have trotted out in many a long year, but this is not to suggest that they are entirely without flaws. Witness the moment when Vertonghen was outpaced and then rather easily barged aside by a thundering opponent in the first half yesterday, after the pair of them failed to deal with a fairly unceremonious punt down the middle. Exhibit B was Toby’s decision to leave to the gods of the six-yard box a ball he could easily have cleared in the closing stages, presenting a chance for a West Brom winner that had Kyle Walker scrambling to hack the thing clear.

‘Only human’, as the chap said to Keanu Reeves towards the end of The Matrix, when holding a gun to his head, and it captures the gist of the thing about Vertonghen and Aldeweireld. A fine pair they are, but such has been our solidity at the back this season that it has been easy to forget that their little Flemish axis will occasionally be breached.

And maybe that’s the nub of the thing – few sides are pootling along in quite such fine fettle as our lot this season, but they are only human, and jolly young humans at that, so mistakes will be made. Back in August few of us dared to hope for much more than a top-five finish, so it would be remiss to chide them for failing to meet heightened expectations. They’re getting there. It remains ill-defined precisely where ‘there’ is, but they most certainly are getting there.

Need a Christmas present for the Spurs fan in your life? AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes, continues to retail at Amazon and Waterstones, hint hint.

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Spurs match reports

Man Utd 1-0 Spurs: 3 Lilywhite Observations

It’s like the thing never went away. Varying degrees of huff and puff, and a smattering of invention that was far too late to be of any consequence, and without playing particularly well or badly the thing was done.

Midfield

The selection of Dier ahead of Mason was shiny and new, but the headlines were grabbed by Bentaleb’s decision to rock up for work still in sunglasses and flip-flops, Hawaiin shirt on back and the distinct whiff of alcohol on his breath. The cat was out of the bag pretty soon, for while he did his best to keep his head down and mooch around in the shadows, all too often he was thrust into the spotlight, and responded by passing the ball to the nearest man in red. He will have better days – in fact every remaining day of his life is likely to be better – but the euthanasia effected by Pochettino shortly after the break was completely understandable.

A Sorry Ode to Own Goal Perpetrators

Ostensibly the fall-guy, truth be told I felt bundles of sympathy for Master Walker. The galloping young cove as ever gave every ounce of effort, and by and large stomped around to fairly solid effect. One of the few entertaining sub-plots to the piece was the joust between Shaw and Walker, and I rather thought our man edged it, by virtue of his barrel chest and third lung. Whether he was tearing up and back, little legs going like the clappers, or spreading his arms like shields of steel in order to escort the ball safely off the vicinity, he just about seemed to win his little personal mano-e-mano. A shame then, that the whole binge was rendered fairly meaningless by that well-intended but ultimately fatal intervention that decided the thing.

I always feel a twinge of sympathy for any man who pops one into his own net, as he always seems to be an ill-deserving buck. In general, it’s a law of science that if the o.g. perpetrator had not spent all that effort charging into his defensive position, an opposing forward would have had something approximating a tap-in. Today was a case in point, with young Walker angrily sprinting back to make the world right, and duly bustling Rooney aside– only to then do the dastardly himself. On top of which, all manner of patronising epithets and backslaps are then duly administered, as if the chap were a bit simple in the head. The whole string of events made young Walker, already the angriest young man in the Premiership, just about ready to pop in a blur of apoplexy – but such is the unfair lot of the own-goal meister.

The Attacking Quartet

Not sure about this mob. The components seem broadly to make sense – a designated central lump, and three mischievous shysters flitting around behind him – but somehow, rather than seamlessly weave together, all four sat in their own designated spots and did not come within a country mile of clicking.

There’s an untruth actually. In the opening exchanges there were one or two moments, and Eriksen might have done better with that early lob when slipped in with a knowing nod and wink by Kane. By and large, alas, these two, plus Dembele and Chadli, kept to themselves, seemingly content to preen around with the knowledge that they were jolly skilful individuals. The thought of banging heads together to create more than the sum of parts seemed strictly off-limits.

It’s the sort of tragic scenario that makes one find a quiet spot and brood. Dembele, Chadli and Eriksen are each, in their own ways, jolly alluring when they purr into gear, and in Football Manager it would probably work a dream. But in reality, one rather expects the pre-nuptial to be dusted off and popped in the post, if you follow my drift.

If It Were Done When ‘Tis Done

And thus, with all the dark inevitability of a Greek tragedy, we limped off with heads bowed. No shame in it, and no doubt we will bounce back – but already a spot cosily ensconced just outside the Top Four feels like it has been reserved. The result, the performance, the general gist of being not quite good enough suggests that the Spurs we know and love is all revved up and ready to trundle.

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

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Spurs 2-1 Arsenal: Pochettino Nails It

This must go down as one of the great lilywhite derby performances of recent years. Admittedly l’Arse contributed massively to their own downfall, with a most peculiar gameplan involving minimal aggressive intent, but let that not detract from a fantastic, relentless attacking barrage from our lilywhite heroes.

Unsung Heroes

Particular homage is due to the full-backs, who while far from flawless, could barely be restrained from bombing forward to add much-needed width to proceedings. I many not be alone in suspecting that young Master Walker has returned from injury boasting just three lungs, rather than the four of yesteryear, for he certainly comes across as a couple of yards slower, but both he and Rose tore into the wide open spaces behind the Arse back-four with gay old abandon.

Mason and Bentaleb similarly picked the right note from the off. At times, in their fledgling careers the pair have seemed rather too determined to fight the good fight some five yards in front of the back four, with the switch flicked firmly towards “Safety First, Dagnabbit”, but today, whilst never abandoning the bread-and-butter of things, they could be occasionally sighted tiptoeing their way deep into enemy territory, and fastening their shooting boots accordingly – never more so than the peach of a cross from Bentaleb that created our glorious winner.

The Attacking Mob

Further yet up the pitch was the most massively left-footed attacking triumvirate since Ryan Giggs and Lee Sharpe decided to get down and party with Clayton Blackmore, in the short-shorted era of yesteryear. Messrs Eriksen and, in particular, Dembele and Lamela seem drawn to their left feet like moths to a flame. Such is life, and there was enough about the supporting cast to prevent  from everyone simply toppling over  to the left, but the introduction of Chadli could not come soon enough.

Dembele’s Right Peg

Dembele looks a man reborn since being lifted from his two-year stupor by virtue of being shunted about ten yards further forward. Now, when he loses interest and opts to shove the balls sidewards, with the suspicious air of a moody teen about to smoke something naughty, he shoves the ball sidewards in a threatening area of the pitch, into the path of a Rose or Walker arriving at full pelt. Admittedly that right foot remains strictly for balance only, but the chap’s renaissance as an attacking force is more than welcome.

As for Lamela – one is happy enough to sweep his shortcomings under the rug of general victory-induced bonhomie, but the fact remains that for a man more talented than just about anyone else on the pitch he does peddle a unique line in simply giving the dashed thing away every time he touches it.

God Bless Harry Kane

But let us not dwell on the more dubious minutiae – there will be plenty of time to wail and gnash teeth on other days. This was a day to celebrate the unlikely glory of Harry Kane, who despite maintaining (for about six consecutive months) the appearance of a man about to lose control of the ball, his own limbs and all semblance of physics, continues to tear up all before him – with left foot, right foot, from close range, long range or with his head.

Bravo Pochettino

As much as anything else however, this was a triumph for the grand fromage. The all-action, energetic approach; the pressing high up the pitch; and the very deployment of over-enthusiastic pups like Mason, Kane and Bentaleb paid absolutely glorious dividends today. Absolutely marvellous stuff.

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Spurs match reports

Sheff Utd 2-2 Spurs: Man-Love For Kane & Eriksen

Admittedly I am preaching to the converted here, but we Spurs fans have not become such peerless peddlers of doom overnight. Our unique brand of pessimism has been carefully nurtured over years and years, and accordingly ever since the final whistle last Wednesday night, every conceivable nightmare scenario had been carefully played out in the AANP mind. Thusly do we roll.

On top of which, the home crowd barked and hollered expectantly, and snow snowed. A celebrity chef could not have chopped, diced and mixed a better conglomeration of ingredients for an upset.

Serenity Ruled

But for seventy or so pretty serene minutes it seemed that our heroes were treating us to that most rarely seen beast, a performance of consummate professionalism.  Admittedly their wingers always looked a threat, but that aside we were well in control. The defending was solid, Stambouli was having one of his better days in front of the back-four, Mason was happy to bomb forward, Vorm was largely spectating and our counter-attacking was bursting at the seams with potency.

Even Dembele was showing glimpses of the all-conquering behemoth of his first few months in a lilywhite shirt – charging forward forty yards with the ball rather than the slightly tired stop-pivot-pass-sideways routine that has drearily become his norm over the last couple of seasons.

Serenity Rather Pointedly Brought To A Halt

Inevitably, this being our lot, what should have been a gentle, incident-free cakewalk to Wembley as smooth as the skin of Venus herself, suddenly materialised into a path beset by cracked ice, broken glass and unhatched eggs from the Alien films, through which we had to navigate a path with heart-stopping caution. Not that it was our fault to be honest – I rather thought our mob had ticked every conceivable box in the manual labelled ‘How To Do This Dashed Thing Sensibly’, only for an errant two-minute burst, including a massive deflection dash it. Mercifully  however, while I stormed the corridors of AANP Towers in a huff, at the injustice of the thing (a deflection! Nobody mentions the deflection, do they? It practically turned the ball a right angle for heaven’s sake), the quick-thinking chaps out on the pitch promptly tore down the pitch and righted the wrongs.

Man-Love

Ah, young Master Kane, every inch the antithesis of wayward wastrel Adebayor. Where last week Adebayor spent the game doing his best impression of an errant schoolboy gazing distantly out of the classroom window and wishing for a sneaky fag behind the bike shed, Kane last night rolled up his sleeves and set about working his socks off. Before delivering a peach of a pass for the winner and then celebrating the goal like a loon.

Within the first half hour he had skinned half the United defence three or four times, and thumped half a dozen shots netwards. Admittedly on at least two of those occasions a thorough SWOT analysis of the situation might have made an incontrovertible case for a pass, but one must not quibble. The boy fights the good fight as if the fate of humanity depends upon it, and scares the dickens out of opposition defenders in so-doing.

But the dreamiest of them all last night was Eriksen. The free-kick spent the middle 70% of its trajectory defying physics, before hitting an absolute postage stamp of a spot where post and crossbar meet in happy union; the second goal was an absurd triumph for ‘90s Grolsch drinkers the world over, as he wisely opted not to rush these things, but took two or three extra strides before wrong-footing the ‘keeper. Insanely good finishing, the sort that makes me want to sire a daughter pronto just so that I can offer her hand to him in marriage pronto.

And what do you know – Spurs are on their way to Wembley!

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Spurs match reports

Spurs 0-0 Man Utd: Turning Luck Into An Art Form

Somebody somewhere once warbled to the effect that if you can play badly and still win then you must be doing something right in the small print. Now the eagle-eyed amongst you will no doubt have spotted that on this occasion we did not actually win, but a few days earlier against Leicester we did, after an eminently forgettable performance, and yesterday we could perhaps be described to have hung about gamely.

The point, which admittedly I have deviated from by a good few hundred yards, is that I am feeling rather heartened by recent events. Heartened in a guilty way, ‘tis true, because if it wasn’t Vertonghen scything down an opponent in the area and walking away scott-free it was the finest forwards money can assemble suddenly losing control of their lower limbs when two yards from goal with ball at feet. On top of which, you couldn’t move for opponents slamming the ball against Hugo’s woodwork with gay abandon. And a propos Monsieur Lloris, the chap has yet again been forced to leap around like a man possessed to keep the good ship Hotspur afloat, despite the seemingly porous framework upon which it is built.

But heartened I am. A string of wins, followed by a point against Man Utd, is not to be sniffed at, no matter how much one picks it up, inspects it and points accusingly at it. Points are points, and while few will suggest that we are now ready for a title-tilt, most would presumably agree that somewhere or other behind the scenes some good work is being done.

There is no disputing that we have not just ridden our luck but have enjoyed a trip in luck’s first-class cabin, complete with complimentary champagne served by a sultry hostess. No real disputing that one. No sir. I suppose it helps even out the dodgy penalty decisions of earlier in the season (Man City and Liverpool, to name a couple).

However, on a more constructive note, much has been made of the fact that our heroes seem to have an extra bit of puff in their lungs these days, and well does it serve us. The last-minute goals seem too frequent to be entirely down to chance, and in the closing moments of yesterday’s game we had not just stirred into life but seemed positively the likelier to win the thing, so three cheers for Pochettino’s beep test, or whatever method the coaching team use these days.

Individual Performances

The tinkering by Pochettino was understandable enough in principle, albeit a little ineffective in practice. The choice of Davies and Chiriches as full-backs in place of Rose and Walker was presumably effected with the dual purpose of giving the latter two a moment to catch their breath, following return from injury, as well as stifling the Man Utd wing-backs. Alas, Messrs Valencia and Young could be described as many things yesterday, but not, truthfully, ‘stifled’. Still, this being our lucky month and all, that was soon taken care of when Valencia disappeared stage right and Rafael-Or-Fabio took his place.

The rarely-sighted Townsend was given a gambol, and beavered away as is his wont, all enthusiasm and willing, and precious little product. I suspect I am in a minority but I like the chap, for he permanently seems to be one smidgeon away from being quite the game-changer. The dinked pass to Kane early on, a sturdy long-range shot in the second half – the law of averages suggests that sooner or later he is going to spend the full 90 minutes absolutely destroying a team single-handedly. I just get the feeling that this will happen after we have sold him.

Typical fare from Mason and Stambouli, the former’s performance encapsulated by that late miss, when he showed all the energy of a young hyperactive puppy to race half the length of the pitch before displaying that absence of top-notch class, in blazing the ball over. Stambouli did everything one would expect of a first-reserve, and the pair of them together generally struggled to prevent the all-singing, all-dancing cast of United midfield talent from pouring forward, particularly in the first half. Not really a criticism, as they were outnumbered, and frankly up against far better players.

But that marvellous combination of willing and luck got us to the finish line, rounding off what on paper looks a pretty darned impressive month’s work. Another seductive smile or two from Lady Luck on 1 Jan against Chelski would go down mightily well.

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Spurs match reports

Villa 1-2 Spurs: Post Mortem on Kaboul & Capoue

The eagle-eyed amongst you might have noted that the best part of 48 hours have elapsed since the curtain came down on events Villa Park, but for that long have I been ruminating on the various ills within our mob, and particularly the rearguard.

Attack

Up in attack, while things can hardly be said to be beetling along in a state of serene success, the general gist of things is just about in credit rather than debit. Chances are at least being made.

Every now and then Chap A finds Chap B, Chap C spins around the back, Chap B slides in Chap C, who neatly pings it back to Chap A, and you sit back and wonder why we lose so many of these dashed games. Admittedly one of the chaps will then hit the ‘keeper rather than the net, but at least we have the beginnings of the right idea.

Defence

At the back however, any good being done by the forwards is being heartily undone, with generous lashings of interest, by a back-four fast becoming a parody of themselves. Kaboul’s head appears to swim like a man trying to make sense of the previous paragraph. It’s all very well looking incredibly mean, imposing and just about The Ultimate Bad-Ass at every break in play, but once the nitty-gritty begins he seems to have taken to closing his eyes, swiping a limb in the loose direction of things and hoping for the best. I fancy it might be time to take the batteries out of the old bean and leave him to collect some dust on a shelf somewhere.

With Kaboul running the show it is little wonder that our back-four as a unit has all the resistance and backbone of a particularly gloomy sandcastle. Sure enough, a Villa side that had not managed a goal since around 1997 were soon rattling shots at us from all angles, and within 15 minutes had their lead.

A Short Grammar Lesson

Referees are disinterested.

Vertonghen, Adebayor and the various other assorted prima donnas, with bags of quality but little passion for the club, are uninterested.

Capoue Watch

You know how it is when you suddenly realise that the chap sitting next to you in the office has an annoying habit of clicking his fingers three times every time his computer-box receives a telegram? Once you are aware of it you cannot stop noticing it, and before you know it you can think of nothing else, until it gets to the point that you either want to thrash his head or your own head against something solid and flat. Well thus do I feel about Capoue.

What does the blighter do? It was something I asked myself a few weeks ago, more as a matter of procedure than due to any particular vendetta, you understand, but several weeks on the question still lingers in the air, and with a nasty whiff to it. So on Sunday I watched him like a leopard, and once again his anonymity was thunderously conspicuous.

In his defence he does occasionally show faint signs of life – a crossfield pass here, a Capital One Cup slalom forward there – but on Sunday it generally seemed that he was content to jog around the place in Ryan Mason’s slipstream, always maintaining a careful 10-yard distance from the ball. When Benteke hammered against the post early on, Capoue could be seen jogging along, in the vicinity but not in the action. When Villa scored their goal, Capoue could be seen jogging along, in the vicinity, but nowhere near the chap who flew in to score. And so on.

Positives

Young Mason continues to charge around with the enthusiasm of a slippery, young whelp, and although his radar went awry in the final 15 his was another fairly encouraging performance. Much has been said of Master Kane, and although the hyperbole has got so far ahead of itself that it has begun to trip on its feet (a piece in the Standard yesterday seemed to be comparing him to Bale) the chap seems to make the right noises. And as mentioned at the top of the programme, when our forwards do click, it really does make the pulse race somewhat.

Red Cards and Whatnot

So going forward we were moderate, at the back we were various shades of awful. Although we created some presentable chances at various points, we hardly looked like controlling the thing until the red card. On which note – Messrs Mason and Vertonghen can consider themselves fairly lucky. As with penalties conceded in recent weeks, rather than moan about harsh decisions the players could simply avoid doing the daft things that give the refs a decision to make.

All told it was no doubt a blessed relief for our glorious leader. The poor old fruit must gaze a little wistfully back at Southampton, where lions lie with lambs and happy rainbows spring up left, right and centre. With each game I see I increasingly feel that we must simply muddle through this season as best we can, then let Pochettino do what he wants with the squad and gauge him properly on 2015/16.

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