All Action, No Plot

Tottenham Hotspur – latest news, opinion, reports, previews, transfers, gossip, rants… from one bewildered fan
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Spurs Summer Musings – Paulinho, Hudd & New Blue Socks

With a month or so until the new season lollops into view ‘tis a tad disconcerting no doubt that the Ghost of Transfer Windows Past is beginning to make disconcerting noises, for yet again there is no real sniff of a new striker, which already suggests that this is veering into final-hours-of-the-window territory. Hopefully one that will be more successfully revisited in the next few weeks, but until then we have one or two matters to pop into a Petri dish and pore over.

Paulinho (and Indeed Dembele)

Welcome to the fold Master Paulinho, a masterly career-move and not just because membership of the lilywhite elite earns you the right to an honorary bourbon at AANP Towers any time you jolly well please. A Brazilian axis of Sandro and Paulinho looks likely to bulldoze everything in its path, and while that may not fit the stereotypical image of his twinkle-toed samba-dancing compatriots it ought nevertheless to equip our heroes swimmingly for the hurly-burly of Premiership jousting.

On an equally exciting note, the arrival of this particular bounder potentially allows AVB to flash a knowing grin and, at the opportune moment, play The Dembele Gambit. Regular visitors to the AANP abode during the sepia-tinged era that was Season 2012/13 will be aware that snorts of displeasure were regularly to be heard in response to what was at times a mighty disconcerting lack of creativity in the final third. Admittedly the derring-do of the marvellous young Bale often papered over this particular crack by virtue of his subtle delivery of 30-yard howitzers to net, but the issue remained: our heroes lacked the requisite nous to thread camels through needle-eyes and defence-carving diagonal six-yard passes into the area. As a result the orb was typically shunted sideways – or popped out to Bale – while envious glances were shot at the likes of Mata and David Silva elsewhere. Holtby and Sigurdsson fought the good fight with plenty of willing, but without necessarily quickening the pulse (or, indeed, scything to ribbons opposing defences), while Dempsey’s 20-yard contributions tended to consist of volleys gently looped into the stands.

For such reasons then should we allow ourselves no more than an understated nod of satisfaction at the prospect of The Dembele Gambit being effected, for while he may not be high priest amongst footballing conjurors he nevertheless has a penchant for dipping his shoulder, beating his man and thrusting deep into the fleshy underbelly of a newly-promoted defence.

Hudd

On a less salubrious note, alas, the arrival of Paulinho could result in a quivering of the upper lip and firm valedictory handshake with young Master Hudd. Whether or not Scott Parker features next season Hudd will certainly not be first choice in a squad already including the Sandro-Paulinho-Dembele triumverate, and one presumes that at 26 he will want to spend his time doing more than absent-mindedly twiddling his locks on the bench. Debate has raged since dinosaurs roamed the earth as to whether Hudd’s immobility renders him baggage (and dashed heavy baggage at that), or whether his Hodd-esque passing ability merits regular involvement, and at AANP we have been ticking the box marked ‘Hodd’ for years and years. However, murmurs around a move to Sunderland or Fulham have been increasing in volume, and the presence in the ranks of another pass-picker extraordinaire, in the form of youthful urchin Tom Carroll, would soften the blow of a Hudd exit. Frankly though, I could tap away at this keyboard for a further aeon and ‘twould make minimal difference, for the chap’s fate will almost certainly be decided by those residing beyond the four walls of AANP Towers. A shame.

Blue Socks

The other development of note at N17 has been the release of a new kit. Not altogether unsurprising, for the young rascals could hardly take to the pitch minus any apparel whatsoever. Nor indeed is the choice of colour a huge shock, what with lilywhite upper-body wear seemingly have been in vogue amongst our heroes for well over a century. Nevertheless, it would be remiss to let proceedings end without casting an austere eye over the latest sartorial choice. And exhale with relief, all ye kit-designing interns of Under Armour, for the home kit at least gains an upturned thumb from this corner of the interweb. (A mild untruth actually, for initially the dawning of a new kit was greeted with an unconcerned shrug and forty winks). A return to blue shorts is certainly preferable, but a whole heap of further brownie-points has been gaily sprinkled around for the choice of blue socks, for a man adorned thus seems to carry the authoritative air of one who knows how to tame a lion and fling a distressed damsel over his shoulder. The choice of away kit blue I can comment on but briefly, having had the retina scarred by that first glimpse, but as has ever been the case, if they ensconce themselves within the Top Four this season it will matter little what knitwear they select while so doing.

Spurs – Southampton Preview: Nerves of Steel

Crumbs. You may want to shield the eyes of your children, because this has the potential to turn into a right palaver. Southampton at home ordinarily ought not to elicit more than confident nod, but with things being what they are I think our heroes dare not sneeze in the wrong direction today.

It may be of some comfort that Southampton are not exactly knee-deep in the mire, but I suppose ‘tis unrealistic to expect them simply to roll over and allow us to tickle their tummies. Still, if they found themselves two-down with 20 minutes to go it would be marvellously obliging of them if they just gave up and went the way of all flesh. Oh that life at the Lane were that simple, what?

Having begun the season with the thunderous central partnership of Sandro and Dembele hoovering up all before them, we find ourselves with the slightly more idiosyncratic pairing of Parker and the Hudd as the curtain comes down. If ever there were a time for the Hudd to pick a perfect pass, or deliver any other sort of alliterative brilliance, this could well be it.

Ultimately however, I presume it will come down to Bale. The lad does have quite a sense of occasion, not to mention nerves of steel. Just as well, as I can barely bring myself to watch.

West Ham – Spurs Preview: Nervous Hand-Wringing

We ought to approach this with all the confidence of a bon vivant whistling his way through an extended break in southern French, given that the run of form extends to one defeat in the last umpteen, and we boast in our midst a match-winner so rapidly elevating himself above all surrounding mortals that, if one particular ex-lilywhite pundit is to be believed, he now uses “literally three lungs”.

And yet AANP has been wringing his hands like nobody’s business whenever thoughts stray to tonight’s impending to-do. For a start that Allardyce creature troubles me, still furtively trying to kill football through use of elbows, niggles and long-balls. On top of which, uncouth beasts such as Andy Carroll are precisely the sort who traditionally toss waif-like Spurs defenders this way and that in their uncomplicated quest to Hulk-smash their way to goal. Oh for a Kaboul, yearns this particular soul – but in his absence it is but Dawson. Time for him to earn that mooted new contract – he has provided loyal and willing service, but the epitome of reliability and invincibility he remains not.

The post-Sandro era continues to stumble its way to success. Trying to fill that enormous, dynamic Sandro-shaped hole with Scott Parker has understandably enough disrupted things a mite, but there are worse ways to go about the business of flailing into a central midfield war.

For various reasons it can be hoped that Defoe is back in contention tonight, and all things considered we ought simply to be too good for this lot – but the nagging worry persists that our heroes (and particularly the defence) will simply be bullied into submission. That blighter with the three lungs might be needed again, what?

West Brom 0-1 Spurs: Man-Love For Holtby

Has the good ship Hotspur ever enjoyed such a serene voyage? From the moment that angry lad spat and walked this eased into an absolute stroll – one-way traffic throughout the second half, and even though the lead was but one goal there was none of the usual frenzied panic that accompanies the final five minutes. Most odd. Topping, but odd.

He Plays On The Left…

AANP will graciously leave the superlatives to others for now, but chin-stroking a-plenty in these parts after seeing the impact of our handsome young Welshman over the last week, when unleashed and allowed to gallop wherever he jolly well pleased. I suspect there is nary a lilywhite in the land who has not at some point grumbled that Bale plays on the left and on the left he should stay – but by golly when the urge grabs him he certainly knows how to leave a trail of destruction down the centre, what?

The young blighter is capable of spontaneously laying match-winning eggs from any position, but 90-minute match-bossing is a dish best served from the centre, and frankly just about anything at which it was worth tipping one’s cap on Sunday emanated from Bale’s careering frame. On top of which, this whole can of worms rather gets inverted and painted an odd shade of green when one considers our general paucity of strikers. The mind boggles.

A New Man-Crush

But never mind Bale – old news, and the lad will be off in a year or two. The future is Herr Holtby. Those boy-band looks are actually quite irritating to one growing old as grumpily as AANP, but the work-rate of Parker, coupled with the delightful attacking awareness and defence-bisecting first-time passes of some sort of VDV-Sheringham hybrid, most certainly strike the right note. With Dempsey putting every ounce of effort into assuming the Jenas position of Most Infuriating Lilywhite On The Payroll, the arrival of Holtby goes a long way to putting the ‘ahoy-hoy’ in ‘geronimo’, if you know what I mean. A Bale-Holtby-Lennon triumvirate merrily interchanging the night away behind Defoe/Adebayor suddenly turns the evening drink from one of fretful concern to blithe inebriation. And huzzah to that.

Elsewhere On The Pitch

Other points of note were distracting rather than particularly important. The first half West Brom aerial bombardment may have contained about as much subtlety as a spade to the back of the head, but it still had me yearning for Kaboul (and also prompted a bit of wondering around these parts as to what the future might hold for the overly-vowelled Lukaku).

Back in that era when our back-four were still being posed problems – an era referred to in the annals as ‘The First Half’ – there was a suspicion that Messrs Walker and Assou-Ekotto had but one brain cell between them, and were not using it particularly wisely, as they repeatedly made a mess of the offside trap and short passes and basic goal-side marking. No real harm done however.

Naturally enough, the Defoe injury was greeted by the sound of about a million exasperated Spurs fans slapping palms to foreheads and muttering in no particular order the phrases “Transfer window… strikers… injuries… Levy… Bother”. Mercifully, the all-singing, all-dancing virtuoso display from Bale, coupled with the charming start offered by Holtby and Togo’s ANC elimination, suggests that this may be a bullet dodged. All a tad precarious though.

However, all things considered (two away games, striker shortage, Sandro injury) this could reasonably go down as the footballing equivalent of a chap jauntily going about his business, with his lips emitting a cheery whistle no less. Toodle-pip for now.

Spurs – Man Utd Preview: Can Parker Still Cut It Against The Best?

Ah, ‘tis the unmistakeable scent of le grand fromage wafting into town. Oddly enough we find ourselves in the exalted position of being able to do the seasonal double over this lot, for possibly the first time since a wide-eyed and youthful AANP would stare transfixed at the shoulder-feints and mullet Chris Waddle and his mullet feinting this way and that. To this casual observer the champions-elect have this season hardly been the all-conquering, unstoppable juggernaut of recent times, with notable deficiencies in goal, defence and midfield for sure, but that blasted RVP seems to know a thing or two about the old net-ripple business, and there is only one of the Vertonghen-Daws-Gallas-Caulker quartet of options that I fancy to have any joy against him today. (Clue: His name rhymes with ‘Bertonghen’)As for our lot, a doleful minute’s silence has presumably been held across lilywhite abodes across the land for the repose of the knee of Sandro. The slightly unhinged Brazilian is out for the season, and one can only feel sorry for Mrs Sandro and any nursing staff involved in his recuperation, for a hyperactive young soul such as he strikes me as the worst possible nominee for sitting still with his leg up.

 

All of which leaves our central midfield in a pickle of sorts. Sandro may not necessarily be the most important cog in this machine, but the combo with Dembele has that same menacing air of Danny Trejo wandering the area with an Uzi on each arm – not necessarily the most effective, as Predators aficionados will testify, but a jolly imposing sight nonetheless.

In Sandro’s absence Scott Parker will step once more into the breach, and presumably run himself into the ground, like the good honest blighter he is. A most useful reserve no doubt on most weekends of the season, but if Euro 2012 delivered one rather sad truth it was that against the very best teams in Europe Parker’s indefatigable spirit only gets him so far. One crosses fingers on his behalf this afternoon.

Master Dempsey will presumably supplement the midfield today, and there is something a mite worrying about the complete silence over attacking reinforcements this January, with Adebayor now sunning himself on his African jolly. One hopes to heavens that Master Defoe does not chip a fingernail this afternoon, because a new big-name forward there be not, neither hither nor in the offing.

A difficult basket of figs to call, this one. Our heroes have already shown this season that they can beat this lot, particularly if the handsome young Welshman is in the mood, but emphatic defeats to City, Chelski and l’Arse pointed to shortcomings on these big occasions. Weather permitting, we’ll find out soon enough.

Spurs 3-1 Reading: How All New Years Should Begin

All in all that amounts to a jolly productive spot of yuletide pilfering. One may certainly clear the throat and reel off the usual quibbles – 30-plus shots ought to translate into more than 3 goals; we could conceivably have been pegged back to 2-2, or worse – but all things considered we can safely say that our heroes crushed Reading, saw them driven before us, and heard the lamentation of their women. Precisely the manner in which all new years should begin.Good Times on the Right Flank 

Out on t’other flank Master Sigurdsson fought the good fight well enough, and poor old Naughton can hardly be chastised for being right-footed. With Walker still determined to play the whole season without once engaging his grey matter (a mite harsh, but one gets the gist), Naughton may be given an opportunity to show what he can do at right-back before too long, particularly once Benny returns to the fold.

Elsewhere things went swimmingly enough. The Sandro-Dembele axis continues to function as all respectable axes ought, albeit with scales still tipped more toward brute-force than mind-boggling guile. The curious fascination with long-range shooting provided entertainment throughout (oh how Hudd must have itched to partake), and so much fun was had by all and sundry that even Scott Parker took time out from the 1920s to go sniffing for his first lilywhite goal.

The aforementioned quibbles around shot-to-goal-conversion and final-third guile might provide food for transfer-window thought, but 10 points from 12 over crimbo merits a doffed cap and a cheeky splash of red with the evening meal.

Spurs – Reading Preview: The Looming Spectre of Balelessness

Curl into a ball and stick your heads in the sand, fellow believers, for yet another bout of Balelessness looms large. When previously this curse has struck us we did at least manage to eke out victory against Swansea, but the soulless display sans Bale against Everon  was rather hard to stomach – no doubt about it, our heroes look a darned sight more mortal without the handsome young Welshman on the gallop.

That said, while the capacity to take on half the opposition single-handedly is very much the sole preserve of Bale, consistent selections have now given our midfield a rather imposing look, with the two-pronged juggernaut that is Sandro and Dembele doing a pretty handy job of bulldozing everything in their path in recent weeks. Guile is still rather lacking, ‘tis true (oh for some truth in the Snjeider rumours this January) but the general record of Reading to date this season suggests that a half-decent showing from our lot will suffice.

AVB’s aversion to tinkering, beyond the back-four, will presumably continue, with Dempsey/Sigurdsson for Bale the only likely change amongst the goal-getting clan, but pleasant murmurings have been made in recent hours about a return to the squad of BAE, which is heartening stuff. One probably also ought to take this opportunity to chime ‘Toodles, and much obliged’, to Cudicini as he makes his way off to Hollywood, best of luck to him.

We have been outfought and outfoxed a number of times at home already this season, on top of which Reading appear to have got their act together in recent weeks – but nevertheless, one would expect the usual second half onslaught to send us home happy today.

Villa 0-4 Spurs: Blessed Relief, Following the World Record First Half

I suspect few other teams could labour quite so much en route to a 4-0 win as our lot did in what will go down in history as The First Half of A Thousand Corners, but by the end it was a certified cakewalk, and for eventually carpeing the diem with such aplomb our heroes deserve all sorts of credit and an extra yuletide tipple.

Men Against Boys

Last time I checked Villa had plenty chaps old enough to know how to handle a razor – the likes of Dunne and Melberg (admittedly the latter was not one with too great a penchant for the razor – and jolly impressive he looked for it too) but it seems the current Villa policy is to raid the nearest primary school nativity play cast-list and hope for the best. Consequently some sort of world record was set, as for the first 43 minutes the ball did not cross halfway, only three Villa players actually touched the ball and at one point Lloris leaned up against a goal post and fell asleep. A tough lesson for the assorted eight year-olds in claret and blue, yet they survived to half-time unscathed. Indeed, the first half was one we have viewed aghast a thousand times at the Lane, as unscrupulous visitors arrange an eight-man defence and open their Alamo Do-It-Yourself handbook.

Handily enough, the much-needed Christmas miracle turned out to be Villa hoisting themselves by their own petard, their gamble of actually trying to come out and attack in the second half neatly backfiring as they consequently sacrificed the eight-man defence that had done such a sterling job in the opening 45.

No doubt about it, life become a jolly sight easier once Villa left gaps at the back and our heroes duly cut them to ribbons, with Bale rather conspicuously abandoning his flank and bludgeoning his way straight down the centre.

Subtlety in the Centre (or Lack Thereof)

Back to that first half though, if I may, and the lack of lock-picking ingenuity down the centre. I certainly would not utter a word of dissent to the faces of either Sandro or Dembele, for the pair of them are like genetically-engineered man-beasts, ripped into shape thorugh the regimented approach undertaken by Dolph Lundgren in Rocky IV. Which is all well and good for snapping back the neck of an Italian stallion with a single punch under the imposing gaze of Brigitte Nielsen, but perhaps lacking the requisite subtlety for the dissection of an eight-man defence. Instead, naturally enough, the first half drill was to set Bale off on a left-wing gallop. ‘Tis a problem that has bedevilled us for several years now, and I’ll be darned if I see a solution in the offing.

Pardon the digression. The second half, by contrast, was oodles of fun, as the schoolboys abandoned the very notion of ‘formation’ and instead ran around in little circles and bumped into each other, while our heroes fizzed neat little one-twos forward and backward until we were four up and away over the hills. Particular credit is due to young Master Naughton for an absolute dream of a first-time weighted pass into Defoe for the opener (who knew the boy had that in him?). Elsewhere on the pitch Monsieur Lloris enjoyed one of the more straightforward clean sheets of his career, Vertonghen gave a glimpse of what a beautiful future might look like when he steps forward to intercept from centre-back, and somebody somewhere deserves a rasping thump on the back in recognition of the masterstroke that was kitting out our heroes in navy blue shorts.

Fours points represents an adequate haul so far for the yuletide foursome, and fourth place satisfactory at the halfway stage of the season. Downhill all the way now.

Spurs 0-0 Stoke: The Annual Bleeding-Eyes Experience

‘Twas ever thus, against that particular bunch, and AVB can hardly be lambasted for drawing a blank where countless others have done similarly. If anything this was further frustrating proof that this particular Levy-endorsed project is a long-term one, and still at its nascent stages. Teams will set out to defend with their lives at the Lane, Stoke will set out to DESTROY FOOTBALL everywhere, and ‘tis hardly revelatory to note that our heroes rather lack the necessary je ne sais quoi to slice open a defence with a 10-yard diagonal pass so cunning it can conjure up in its right hand the very cravat that surely sat around your neck just a bally second ago.

Stubbly, gravelly of voice and still disgustingly young he may be, but alas, ‘alchemy’ is notably lacking from the AVB CV. The poor blighter did what he could at the outset, for there was sense in the selections of Daws at the back, and both bona fide strikers in attack. That said, Sigurdsson might have been given a bit longer to set off on his customary dash hither and thither (although the poor lamb does seem destined to become master of the near-miss) and young Master Townsend might have been employed to have a fresh-legged scuttle at the Stoke back-eight.

Instead, we were treated to nothing more novel than the swapping of Lennon and Bale for a fruitless half hour, which seems to have become the mid-game masterstroke of choice amongst the Brains Trust. The move always elicits a rather bemused shrug around these parts. Harmless enough I suppose, but there’s the rub – it is indeed generally quite harmless. I suppose it gives the opposing full-backs something new to ponder, and changes the scenery, and maybe benefits an unscrupulous spot-fixing syndicate in some unholy outreach of the globe, but in terms of genuinely blowing up our skirts and leaving bewildered opponents clawing out their own eyes, I struggle to remember it ever having truly noted it in awestruck tones as a game-changer par excellence. But ‘tis just an idle musing, and it might as well be attempted when a game threatens to peter out to 0-0 as early as the opening five minutes. The point remains that the VDV- and Modric-shaped holes have yet to be filled, and creativity lacketh accordingly.

Elsewhere, Vertonghen again had the air of a man with whom you would want to share a tumbler of whiskey to soothe the nerves on a particularly fraught festive afternoon, and Monsieur Lloris has himself another clean sheet, but Dembele and Sandro increasingly looked like they would rather be playing football than Stoke. Understandably enough. However, in the ‘Small Mercies’ column we did at least avoid concession of some criminally undeserved, scrappy set-piece goal, which at various stages of the second half appeared to be all that was missing from the whole, sorry, eye-bleedingly frustrating experience. Still, if we can erase the episode from our collective memories, it turns out that our heroes are in action again in just a day or two, when happier times – or at least grumbles of a different ilk – await.

Merry Christmas one and all, do allow yourselves a moderate celebration.

Arsenal 5-2 Spurs: AVB Emerges With Some Credit, Oddly Enough

Life just seems jolly unfair sometimes. We might I suppose have lost 6-2 if Adebayor had stayed on the pitch, but the first 15 minutes at least suggested that our heroes had bounced out on the right side of bed this morning and sneakily indulged in an extra Weetabix at the breakfast table to boot.

A thousand violent curses then upon the devil on Adebayor’s shoulder. No complaint at all about the red card, but it is nothing short of maddening that the game swung so completely (and so early) at that moment, something l’Arse did not earn at all but had gifted to them entirely by us. Pardon me while I wince at the sourness of the grapes in the AANP fruit bowl, but I cannot help grumble that this ages-old affair between l’Arse and Lady Luck continues. Still, ‘twas a mistake by a Tottenham player, so ‘twas only right that we reaped accordingly.

A 5-2 defeat in this game of all games would not ordinarily endear the glorious leader to fickle armchair followers such as yours truly, but I rather fancy that AVB earned himself a few points today. The selection of both Adebayor and Defoe away from home was a most unexpected gamble from one who has been peddling conservatism quite so sedulously, but by golly for those 15-odd glorious opening minutes things seemed to pootle along swimmingly.

Similarly, the half-time switch to a vaguely 3-5-1-looking formation seemed to put a little fire into bellies, at a time when I suspect I was not alone in fearing we would submit like resigned lambs philosophically accepting slaughter as just part of life. 5-2 was hardly the desired scoreline, but the manner of the second half performance and AVB’s second half tactical adjustment gave grounds for optimism. To live by the sword and die trying to claw back a two/three-goal deficit is infinitely preferable around these parts to simply limiting damage and accepting defeat with a whimper.

Elsewhere on the pitch

Hudd and Sandro fought the good fight well enough, and until his dismissal Adebayor looked to be making a sterling contribution, while this is unlikely to be a day that will be talked of fondly in the Naughton household for years to come – although the poor lad might have benefited from a tad more assistance from Bale. The handsome young Welshman had a strange sort of day, having seemingly made an early executive decision that team-mates are overrated, and consequently decided to take on the entire Arsenal team, solve the economic crisis and cure AIDS all single-handedly. Not a particularly bad call, for there was further net-rippling evidence today that a Bale on the charge takes some stopping, but the second half chance to pass for Defoe, at 4-2, rather than shoot, would have made life a lot cheerier (a sentiment that is admittedly remarkably easy to express with the benefit of hindsight).

Defeat it is then, but vastly less painful than the Wigan capitulation. AVB remains a curious fish (the goalkeeping selections continue to appear entirely arbitrary) but today it did at least feel like he earned his corn. There are flashes in there, that this season might yet bear fruit.

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