All Action, No Plot

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Spurs 3-3 West Ham: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. The Second Half

What with the early carousing in which everything turns to gold, followed by a feeling ultimately of feeling sick to the stomach, this had all the hallmarks of a particularly exuberant night out for which one pays pretty heavily the next day. ‘Moderation’ is generally a watchword at AANP Towers until the drink starts to flow, and between you and me there has been more than one occasion on which I have woken bleary-eyed on the bathroom floor, still wearing the previous night’s layers, with head pounding like the dickens and a ghastly taste in the throat, leaving me to wonder at precisely what point things went from Rip-Roaring-Fun to Oh-So-Terribly-Wrong.

I mention this regrettable morning-after sentiment because that same question – of the point at which things went from RRF to OSTW – seems pretty ripe here.

It would be easy to suggest it was half-time – and the trail of breadcrumbs certainly points to our lot failing remotely to match West Ham’s second half lust for battle.

But here at AANP Towers there were one or two mutterings of discontent even in the first half, even amidst the Kane-and-Sonny double-act, because whenever West Ham probed down the flanks our lot seemed to make quite the song and dance about simply putting out the fires and getting on with life. While it was true that every time we attacked we looked like scoring, and a three-goal lead ought to have been plenty, our back-four could hardly have been described as hammock-swinging and cigar-puffing at any point.

Nevertheless, with a three-nil lead at home to middling opposition, the decent thing to do would have been to shuffle off with all three points. But whereas in the first half we cleared the set-pieces and had some generous spells of midfield possession – with occasional breakneck forward thrusts – in the second half it seemed the urgency levels were gently dialled down as the clock ticked towards 90. Where Ndombele, and Hojbjerg in particular, were pulling strings in the first half, they gently faded into the background in the second.

I suppose, just as one can identify the precise Jagerbomb on the night-before as the moment at which events suddenly veered south, one can point to the removal of Son and his energy, or Sissoko’s failure to challenge for a header at a set-piece, as turning points here. And such individual moments certainly did seem to contribute to the general malaise.

However, unlike the Newcastle last-minute equaliser a few weeks back, we can hardly claim that this was a bolt from the blue – our lot allowed West Ham to have too much of the game in the second half.

2. Aurier and the Void Between his Ears

This was probably one for ‘Collective Responsibility’ rather than zooming in on the obvious, traditional cause of calamity, but as we were increasingly on the defensive in the second half, and given that most of the damage was being done on the flanks, I took it upon myself to conduct a thorough study of Serge Aurier’s second half activity; and, unsurprisingly, the results made for pretty dubious viewing.

It may have been tactically ordained from on high, but Aurier constantly seemed to be ten yards further forward than the rest of the back-four. This obviously accommodated his impulse to attack, which made sense, and Sissoko more often than not slotted in behind him to cover.

This in itself seemed reasonable enough. Not a tactic with which I was terrifically thrilled, but one accepts such things with good grace. What irked no end, however, was that when possession was lost and the defensive gong had clearly sounded, Aurier tended to do little more than watch events unfold from ten yards away. When he ought to have been busting a gut to return to his quarters, he rarely did more than saunter back.

It was disturbing quite how often he was simply in the wrong position. This seemed to be compounded by his urge to race into tackles in midfield – simply because he happened to be in the vicinity. A dollop or two of defensive nous might have encouraged him to leave midfield battles for the midfielders, while he hurried back to his right-back post, but such thoughts rarely seemed to occur.

It was all a little odd, and I rather wish I had studied Reguilon on the other flank to see if similar events were unfolding there.

And then, to compound matters, in the dying seconds Aurier managed in a single movement to segue from being comfortably in possession to needlessly losing possession and conceding a free-kick, from which the equaliser was scored. All the attacking benefits in the world cannot convince me of that man’s worth as a defender.

3. Early Thoughts on Bale

Whisper it, but the much-heralded return of Gareth Bale proved to be one heck of a damp squib, as tends to be the case when one wanders onto the pitch and sees things immediately fall apart at the seams just in time for the final whistle.

Not since the signings were announced of Edgar Davids, and before him Jurgen Klinsmann, has the excitement at AANP Towers reached such giddy levels. For ten mind-boggling minutes we were even treated to the Son-Kane-Bale axis in all its glory. Nothing happened, as all three, in their own unique ways, all looked pretty shattered – but there it was! Actually unfolding!

In time, one suspects those three will absolutely blitz some poor, honest souls who amble up on the wrong day. This, however, was not that day. Bale, frankly, did not look fit. I suspect no-one begrudges him that, and at three-nil with twenty minutes to go it ought not to have mattered, but I suppose we will simply have to wait a few more weeks before that front-three fires on all cylinders.

A dashed shame that Bale fluffed his lines when the big moment arrived, particularly having done the hard work, but he seemed to receive an untimely shove that knocked him off his axis at the crucial moment. The good times will presumably roll soon enough.

4. Deep-Lying Kane

On a brighter note, the japes of the first sixteen minutes were all sorts of fun!

What seemed to begin as a mere whim or flight of fancy of Harry Kane’s, to drop deep and show off his passing range, now seems to have evolved into a bona fide plan, which presumably has files saved online and a ring-binder containing notes and coloured post-its in Jose’s inner sanctum.

When our lot begin passing from our own goal kick, Kane now stations himself in midfield as a matter of permanent residence, in order to collected the lofted ball and make merry.

Things are a little different when we’re in possession around halfway, in which case normality resumes and he’s as likely to be the attacking spearhead; but if the opposition defence is pushed up to halfway, Kane’s drill is to sow his wild oats from a deep-lying starting position.

And why not? His passing is sublime, and his runners willing. Teams will presumably suss this out and deploy appropriate counter-measures – but in a way this will be where the fun really does begin, because we have the option of simply having Kane wander back into attack, and dragging opponents with him.

5. Clinical Finishing

The heading ‘Clinical Finishing’ rings a little hollow now, admittedly, but in the opening twenty minutes or so our finishing was the very dictionary definition of clinical.

I recall several years ago in an away Champions League match – possibly Barcelona, possibly Dortmund – when Son was clean through and shot straight at the ‘keeper, I gave the blighter an absolutely rollicking for several weeks afterwards. Not much point, of course, as he couldn’t hear me, but I was convinced at the time that the lad was not one of nature’s born finishers.

Things have moved on somewhat since then, and now Sonny is as deadly as they come when the frame of the goal looms into view. I did rather titter at the West Ham defender who did not think to prevent his right-footed shot in the first minute – it seems a safe bet that the entire watching global audience could see what Son was going to attempt as soon as he collected the ball – but it’s one thing attempting such manoeuvres and another thing crossing the t’s and dotting the I’s, and these days Sonny just doesn’t seem to miss.

Credit also to Kane for rolling out the double-nutmeg for his first goal, and a slap on the back for young Senor Reguilon and his glorious first-time cross, which practically begged to be nodded home. I cannot imagine that I was the only one who wondered how many attempts that might have taken Ben Davies.

Our lot can barely be contained going forward – if we could just work out how to defend (and no, Eric Dier is not the answer) just imagine where this season would take us. For now, however, it seems all action, no plot.

Man Utd 1-6 Spurs: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Hojbjerg’s Man of the Match Stuff

When Gary Neville took time out from his 90-minute long soliloquy on Man Utd to toss a Man of the Match award in the direction of the good ship Hotspur, he appropriately enough gave the matter zero thought and rattled off the first name that sprung to his mind, Harry Kane.

Now Kane is a man of multiple talents, just about all of which were on display today – and for those campers who are firmly pro-Kane but a little less decided on all things Hojbjerg, there might be value in skipping over the following few paragraphs and lapping up the Kane-heavy content below.

Here at AANP Towers however, the bouquets were being flung in the direction of P-E Hojbjerg throughout, because in a quiet and understated way the chap absolutely bossed proceedings.

When science progresses to the point that cutting open a chap’s brain to understand clearly how the levers and pulleys work is as regular as flicking on a light switch, I’ll happily petition for Master Hojbjerg to be the first to go under the knife, because his knack for knowing precisely where to be at any given point, on an expanse of land as big as – well, a football pitch – was uncanny.

Depending on any given circumstance in the game, Hojbjerg seemed able to glide into the optimal position to stick his oar into other people’s business. It mattered not whether we were in possession inside our own half, or just outside their area, or on the retreat as the other lot attacked – in much the same manner as one of those time-travelling robot assassins of Cyberdyne fame, Hojbjerg seemed able to whistle through a multitude of options in his head and instantly select the appropriate one, positioning himself accordingly.

At one point towards the end of the first half, first Reguilon and then Ndombele let possession slither away, and as the United dogs eagerly looked up for a counter-attack opportunity they were abruptly stopped by six feet and a few inches of pure Hojbjerg, stomping into view like one of those over-zealous doormen who are oddly averse to sitting down and discussing differences in the manner that decorum demands.

And if the situation called for those six feet and several inches to exert themselves in the muscle-and-sinew department. Hojbjerg was even more game, and at one point his enthusiasm for the lilywhite cause extended to an on-pitch celebration for a tackle by Serge Aurier. And how we have needed something like that at N17.

And then, as his piece de resistance, just when AANP thought that were no more worlds for the young Dane to conquer, he went and delivered – first time and with perfect weight – that pass inside the full-back that is the stuff of deities, to set up Aurier for his goal.

2. Kane Dropping Deep

As has been evidenced in recent weeks, Harry Kane, seems to have decided that he’s proved all he needs to prove in terms of goalscoring, and while everyone else gets on with the day-job he will throw in a spot of extra-curricular work in the Number 10 position.

The pass from the free-kick to release Son for one of the goals early on (let’s face it, it’s a struggle to remember them all, let alone their order) was the sort of stuff of which any lifelong, deep-lying creator would be proud.

He also pinged a couple of Hollywood balls into the path of Serge Aurier – although admittedly United’s defending was such that at times it seemed rude not to pick out Aurier – and even when not directly creating goalscoring opportunities, his tendency to stroll all the way back to halfway and even further gave the impression that here was an egg who was rather enjoying his latest hobby.

With Sonny the ever-willing runner ahead of him, and Lamela finding the whole thing an awfully good jape too, Kane’s drifts into deeper positions were pretty well complemented. Thrown Bale into the mix and I think we’re all going to need a stiff drink and a decent lie-down.

Not that Kane was going to neglect completely the meat and veg, and up he duly popped to score a poacher’s goal in the first half, and a trademark perfect penalty, into the side netting rather than the corner. All seemingly without breaking sweat.

On top of which, he, in common with various others – Lamela, Hojbjerg, Ndombele, Sonny, Aurier, Reguilon – was snapping at United heels like a man possessed from the off.

3. Aurier and Reguilon

Young Senor Reguilon had the sort of debut that will make the crowds gather and beg for more. Beating United 6-1 in their own backyard is pretty much beyond the stuff of dreams – but there it was for him, in black and white.

His own contribution seemed to pick up where he had left against Chelsea in midweek. The directive to go haring up the left-flank was one he seemed to receive as a small child might receive instruction to take whatever the hell he pleased from a sweetshop, and like some sort of little lamb in a nursery rhyme, whenever Sonny decided to stretch his legs on the inside left position, one could bet the mortgage that Regulon would be sure to go in a supporting role, five yards to the left.

Another feature of Reguilon’s game was more of that child-like enthusiasm in chasing down loose balls or opponents at every opportunity, as if absolutely desperate to impress his new paymasters. And quite rightly too, it’s the attitude one would expect from all in lilywhite. One hopes that experience does not diminish this youthful zeal.

On the other flank, Christmas came early for young Monsier Aurier, who was allowed to do whatever the hell he wanted all game. All of this was aided by United not really picking up the gist of the thing, and seemingly dealing with the problem by closing their eyes, putting their hands over their ears and singing loudly. In certain scenarios this counter-measure might prove effective, but today it did little to dent Aurier’s ambitions, and as well as multiple opportunities to cross he was also afforded enough time to score, which really is a nadir for any opposing defence.

Question marks over Aurier’s defending will presumably never disappear, but the suspicion remains that he considers himself an attacking sort, and when the opportunity arises to hit the final third he often delivers.

4. Lamela and the Dark Arts

Most self-respecting folk have had the good sense to acknowledge that rather than turn the game, the red card simply sped up the inevitable, whilst perhaps adding a dollop or two of good, honest comedy to the situation. Already in one heck of a pickle at that stage, United went through various stages of a toddler’s tantrum, by getting everything wrong, then sulkily giving up and then becoming rather aggressive – but at the time of the offence our lot were already leading, had missed multiple chances and were noticeably sharper in almost every area.

That said, the AANP view was that there could have been few complaints had Lamela also seen red. Presumably he didn’t because he struck the throat, whereas the other lad struck the face; and if countless John Grisham novels have taught me anything it’s that the devil is in the detail in these legal matters.

I suspect that not even the most committed United fan could ignore the irony of complaining about a harsh refereeing decision at Old Trafford, but there can be little doubt that our lot benefited a tad from this one (on almost the exact spot at which a missed handball allowed United to score past Heurelho Gomes several years back).

While the Sky studio pundits were racing through the various stages of grief at the whole spectacle, I did rather wonder what Our Glorious Leader made of Lamela’s sudden surrender to the charms of gravity.

One could be forgiven for having missed it, as it was not particularly widely publicised, but a certain channel recently aired a documentary of behind-the-scenes footage from N17, which was in places at least, eye-opening stuff. At one point, which does rather stick in the memory, Jose requested his troops – using the sort of fruity language that would make the elderly swoon, I don’t mind telling you – that they needed to be less courteous in how they went about things. Less pleasant. More unbecoming.

And so, when Lamela took his unseemly tumble, while hardly applauding the young bean, I did wonder if this were evidence of precisely that sort of uncouth stuff that Jose had craved. A small step, one might suggest, on the road to increasing the general savviness about the place – and maybe even winning a trophy?

There were plenty of other positives, and plenty of other highlights (Maguire hauling down Luke Shaw for the first goal; the sight of United players careering off into the wrong postcode every time Ndombele executed a turn; the fake crowd booing off United at half-time). Ultimately however, this has turned into one of our greatest weeks in recent memory. Bumping Chelsea out of the Carabao Cup; securing the Europa group stage with seven goals in the process; signing a striker of all things – and now sticking six past United at their own place.

How does one sum up that sort of narrative? Lads, it’s Tottenham.

Spurs 2-1 Arsenal: Six Tottenham Talking Points

1. Jose’s Masterplan

Being a noble sort, having spent the last six months aiming pelters at Jose from all angles for the bad he has done our club, I have no problem whatsoever in muttering a grudging half-compliment in his direction, for masterminding The Most Jose Victory Imaginable. Cut AANP open and you find humility coursing through his veins.

I asked on these very pages last week whether we would take a trophy playing the way we have been (specifically it was after beating Everton in a game that made the nation’s eyes bleed) – and while the answer over here is, I’m afraid, still a resounding “Not on your life,” nothing soothes the soul like beating that ‘orrible lot from South London. Seeing Sol Campbell looking so deflated in the telly box afterwards was a charming bonus.

The second half in particular spelled out in huge font exactly how The Masterplan was to work. Team Lilywhite kept their shape admirably, and made the conscious decision to rock onto the back foot and soak up all that Arse could throw our way. An approach not without risk, but to their credit each individual carried out their instructions, maintaining discipline in both position-keeping and decision-making.

It would be stretching things to say it was backs-to-the-wall stuff, “Arm’s length” being the more accurate headline for that particular half hour’s frivolities, and let’s not forget that Arse were within a lick of paint of getting their goal and leaving us in a considerable pickle.

The reward on this defensive investment came in the form of counter-attacks, which gradually increased in frequency as the second half wore on. The pace of Sonny and occasionally Lucas, coupled with the usual bloody-mindedness of Kane, ensured that there was plenty of threat about this counter-attack, and with Arse boasting their very own version of Serge Aurier in that lad Mustafi, opportunities for our lot going forward were scattered surprisingly liberally. Indeed, in the final ten or so, once Arse had to chase the game, we might have had far more than just the single-goal lead.

2. Formation

Having tinkered on a weekly basis with personnel, formations and intricate instructions involving lopsided wing-backs when attacking and interchanging of positions depending on the angle of the sun in the sky, Jose switched to 4-4-2, and a calm descended upon the team.

Given that this has become the worst Tottenham side since the 90s, there was a pleasing symmetry to the choice of this most 90s-esque formation, but it proved a good move. For a start, any reversion to 90s popular culture gets the AANP Seal of Approval, and moreover 4-4-2 seemed a sufficiently uncomplicated system for even our most stupid personnel to understand.

It was pretty rigid stuff, but after the interpretative dance routines that have been on display defensively in recent games, some rigidity was much needed. Within this 4-4-2 the instructions were pretty clear all round. Essentially, all eleven were popped into position at the outset, ordered to stay there throughout, and just like that we had some much-needed structure.

In fact, rather than a 90s homage, there was something of ‘Arry’s Tottenham about the set-up, with Winks and Lo Celso giving passable imitations of Hudd and Modric on sentry duty in front of a back four.

Whether or not this is the formation to be adopted going forward remains to be seen, but it was both charming and, crucially, effective in its simplicity. Our lot held their positions and repelled whatever was thrown at them, limiting Arse to precious few clear chances, and countered in a speedy blur of legs as the game wore on.

3. Lucas’ Contribution

Of course, all the planning in the world, masterful or not, would have counted for precious little if our heroes had wandered off and boiled their heads, so it was a blessed relief that by and large they obediently carried out instructions like a pack of well-trained Labradors.

It was also pretty crucial that they displayed a dashed sight more vim about their business than in recent weeks. Admittedly, the bar in this respect could hardly have been lower, but it was still necessary that someone set the tone, and in this respect Lucas made his most important – and, some cynics might impertinently intone, his first – contribution since The Miracle of Amsterdam, by racing out of the starting blocks to thwack a first-minute effort against the palms of the Arse goalkeeper.

That it did not go in was relatively moot – the important point was that at least one of our lot appeared sufficiently awake to have understood that a football match was in progress, and if any of his teammates had missed the memo beforehand, that contribution might have reinforced the message.

Lucas looked lively throughout the first half, albeit within the confines of his left midfield pen. In a curious way, the limitations of his position seemed to liberate him, and he did not need asking twice to get his head down and attempt a dribble.

Even more impressive was his vision and weighting of a pass into Kane in the second half – from which, I think, Kane’s saved shot brought about the corner from which Toby scored. Admittedly there is something of the butterfly-flapping-wings-in-one-continent-and-all-hell-breaking-loose-in-another about that, but it was a heck of a pass nevertheless. Others may get the plaudits (although the game was not brimming with stand-out contributions), but Lucas’ little inputs played their part.

On an editorial note, I have since found out that he made more tackles than anyone else seemingly in history, so back-slaps galore in his direction.

4. Serge Aurier – Still Our First Choice Right-Back

Meanwhile, Serge Aurier was busy doing what Serge Aurier does.

That none of his moments of utter cranial absence resulted in goals/penalties/red cards does not mask the fact that he still continues to litter them about the place with the carefree insouciance of a man who knows there is not another bona fide right-back at the club.

(Strictly speaking one might point an accusing finger at him for not mopping things up immediately prior to the first Arse goal, but given that the goal was both a) random and b) blistering in nature, I’ll deign to excuse him for that one.)

The goal aside, Aurier produced his usual medley – a needless corner here, a needless going to ground there. And this, head-scratchingly, is our undisputed number one when it comes to the number 2 shirt.

Young Walker-Peters has at least been gaining playing time out at Southampton, but the chap does not yet appear anywhere near the standard needed for a supposed CL team. Other options at right-back include Foyth, Toby and Sissoko – none of whom were sculpted for the role by Mother Nature.

When one harks back to the Walker-Rose axis of a few years ago, one realises quite what a difference a top class full-back can make. Aurier at right-back is a wrong that needs righting as a matter of priority this summer.

5. Toby’s Many Virtues (Including Not Being Eric Dier)

Mercifully, at the other end of the scale of Defensive Ability from Aurier sits Toby Alderweireld.

Had Eric Dier not waded into the stands to engage in polite conversation all those months back, he might not have been banned, might still be starting in defence and, arguably, our back-four would not have looked half as robust as it has done since he was bundled off the stage and Toby brought in.

Random, unprompted moments of defensive madness are now at a minimum, which might sound a strange compliment to pay any team above Sunday League level, but when one considers quite how many goals we’ve conceded from individual errors this season, this absence of U.M. of D.M. actually becomes pretty crucial. And Toby can take a heck of a lot of credit for this.

For a start, he just does not make as many mistakes as Dier and Sanchez, on top of which his reading of the game generally has the effect of dousing a fire before the flames ever really kick in and make merry.

One can only speculate, but as a supporter the presence of Toby in the back four immediately lowers the pulse, reduces the greying and adds a few years onto life expectancy; one imagines that behind the diplomatic witterings the players themselves must be queueing up to thank Jose for picking him.

Lovely headed goal, too (and when was the last time we ever saw the late, lamented Christian Eriksen deliver a corner of that quality?)

6. The Jose Way’ vs ‘The Tottenham Way’

A win against that lot is always to be enjoyed, but I maintain that there is something galling about seeing our heroes set up to defend and counter. Ceding possession and camping in our own defensive third seems to me a little too close to announcing that we consider ourselves not as good as the other lot, and avoiding going toe-to-toe.

One would understand the sentiment against Barcelona away, but this is a fairly moderate Arse side. At what point do we consider ourselves capable enough simply to outplay an opponent? And, more to the point, aren’t we a club built upon the notion of outplaying an opponent, making exceptions only for the likes of Barcelona away – and even then only because there is a home leg to come?

It might be, however, that insisting that we stick to The Tottenham Way, at a time when confidence is shot and a result is desperately needed, is simply allowing pride to have its devious way – and since we’re going so big on 90s themes today, it is probably worth remembering that Marcellus Wallace, of Pulp Fiction fame, had some pretty pointed and uncomplimentary thoughts on pride. In short, he was not a fan.

I maintain that most other managers worth their salt would find more pleasing ways to get us from A to B. However, for now at least, Jose it is – and this appears to be The Masterplan. Yesterday it could not have been much more effective, but the prospect of this approach becoming the norm in N17 does still makes one shudder with a nameless fear.

Spurs 2-0 West Ham: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Kane Getting Back Up to Speed

This whole thing was a marked improvement on the previous grilling, vs Man Utd – which admittedly was not difficult, given how low we set the bar on that occasion – and as Kane motored off into the distance to pop the cherry on things it struck me that his individual performance loosely summed up the general gist of things.

Against Man Utd he had barely registered his participation, seeming to serve decorative value only and appearing to have forgotten many of the basics of physics whenever involved in the action, judging by his negligible ball control and pretty severe case of the huffs and puffs when required to move. Similarly, our lot as a whole seemed unfit, devoid of ideas and pretty content to tick the box marked ‘Passive’ rather than ‘Active’.

Yesterday, however, Kane gave a pretty good impression of one who, if not necessarily firing on every conceivable cylinder, was nevertheless giving the engine a pretty thorough going-over – and indeed, the team as a whole at least seemed to peddle a bit more ambition than before, albeit against pretty limited opposition.

Those keenly observing Kane’s performance, with checklist in hand and pen at the ready, were kept well involved throughout. There were early hints that his memories of former glories were returning, as in the first half he pinged a shot from distance and then spread play to the wings – with the outside of his boot, no less – both pretty sure signs that, having been kept hidden from view against Man Utd, the Kane of old was making a bid for freedom here.

It continued in the second half with a lung-busting sprint of all things. Admittedly this ended in anticlimactic fashion, with him dragging his shot wide, but nevertheless, for a chap whose likeliest weakness is probably a lack of pace, the sight of him overtaking various defenders as he hared towards the penalty area would no doubt have had some pretty knowing looks exchanged in living rooms across the country.

And as if to emphasise the point, he did near enough the same thing again ten minutes later, but to better effect. The weighting of Sonny’s pass helped no end, meaning as it did that there was little need to break stride or take too many touches, but Kane’s hamstrings still held up well to the rigours of a dash towards goal, and his finish made the whole thing look vastly more straightforward than it was.

He then lay on the ground for around a minute refilling his lungs, but one can excuse that. It might not quite be peak Kane just yet, but this was far brighter stuff than I had dared hope.

2. Dele’s Free(Ish) Role

After West Ham’s initial ten-minute surge had gone up in smoke, and possession was ours to do with as we pleased, the game gradually settled into that age-old conundrum of how to break down two banks of four that have set up camp and desire little more in life than to remain that way with net untroubled.

A pretty convoluted plan seemed to have been concocted in this respect, with The Brains Trust deciding to cut their losses on Aurier by stationing him up the pitch as a right winger, thereby minimising his capacity to produce the calamitous within shooting distance of his own goal.

Meanwhile on t’other flank Ben Davies had presumably been fitted with one of those tagging devices that prevented him from mooching too far beyond the halfway line.

All of which meant that Sonny was our sole representative on the left flank and therefore had limited opportunity to cut infield and hare towards goal, and the AANP was left swimming a bit as it tried to work out the mechanics of the whole thing.

In short however, all the tactical scrawls in the world could not disguise the fact that our lot were pretty ponderous in possession – neither shifting the ball quickly when they had it, nor moving enough off the ball when they didn’t.

The pleasing exception to this rigidity was Dele. Whether under instruction to do so or simply exercising his autonomy and going where he pleased, as young folk will do, the rascal floated hither and thither, and by so-doing added a drop of the unexpected to our gentle probings.

Only a drop, mind. There was much of the inside left about his role, but when opportunity arose he seemed to go for a wander into pockets of space – on one such occasion inviting a lovely through ball from Davies, who had evidently broken his own positional diktat to wander up the pitch, and Dele was away in the penalty area.

The young egg’s swagger was also in evidence once again, with drag-backs and flicks aplenty. This can grate a little – there is, after all, a time and a place for such nonsense – but in general I thought he struck the right balance, injecting a little spontaneity into our attacking play that otherwise was pretty heavily steeped in the monotony of sideways passing.

It was a shame for him that he was hooked early in the second half, just as the game began to open up and the fun to start, but this constituted a decent innings on his return to the side.

3. Lo Celso Easing Into The Groove

The Man of the Match gong was officially awarded to Lo Celso, which was reasonable enough, but there is certainly more to come from the chap.

In the first half in particular, when, as mentioned above, we laboured to precious little effect, I thought we might have benefitted from grabbing the lad by his armpits, hoisting him into the air and depositing him some twenty yards further up the pitch, to sprinkle some mischief. In a world of sideways pass upon sideways pass, the vision and technique of Lo Celso makes him stand out as one of the few amongst us who might magic a chance out of nothing.

Indeed, on the one occasion that he did make it to the heady heights of the edge of the West Ham area his jinking feet made an instant impact, creating the chance for Sonny that was ruled out.

As the game became rather more stretched in the second half he became more prominent, able to indulge his partiality for embarking on a gentle gallop with ball at feet. One suspects he will be a pretty significant presence within the Mourinho vintage.

4. Ndombele – Persona Non Grata

There were other, low-key points of note – Sissoko became more dominant as the game progressed, Aurier not for the first time seemed rather to enjoy life without all that defensive nonsense burdening him – but one of the more significant developments of the evening was the conspicuous absence of a certain member of the troupe.

What future for Tanguy Ndombele in lilywhite? Fit enough for the elongated bench, but presumably not rated highly enough even for a late cameo to add some protection to midfield (young Master Winks instead thrown on for the final few minutes, to play the role of burly doorman), a betting man would presumably steer well clear of any wager on Ndombele to be the fulcrum around which the team is built.

Much was made pre-lockdown of Ndombele’s rather alarming lack of puff, and the young bean’s training regime during lockdown received similarly hefty coverage. As such, I suspect I was not the only one eagerly awaiting the sight of him emerging trim and buoyant, newly entrusted by Jose to turn defence into attack.

The reality appears vastly at odds with this scenario. The shape of the things in the immediate future appears to include the move of Dier back into defence, Sissoko and Winks as the more trusted deep-lying sorts, and Lo Celso pulling strings for the headline-seekers in attack – with Ndombele left to socially distance in the stands.

With games coming thick and fast in coming weeks one would expect that he’ll be beckoned to the fore at some point, but if the first two games are indicators of how Jose sees the world – and there’s every reason to interpret them as such – then this new normal does not appear to include Ndombele.

Leipzig 3-0 Spurs: Five Tottenham Observations

1. Lloris – More Basic Errors

Tough times at Casa Tottenham, with the rot seemingly having set in from the stem and spreading – if you don’t mind the cunningly topical analogy – like a virus.

World Cup-winning captain or not, our resident custodian has assured us in recent times that if all else fails, he can be relied upon to drop a clanger of pretty gargantuan proportions with healthy regularity, and in this respect he did not fail us.

One understands the principle of walking a mile in the shoes of a fellow mortal before pelting him from all angles, and I readily confess that from the comfort of my armchair I certainly have never failed to make a save.

Nevertheless, the first goal appeared to be of the breed of regulation muck that you would expect a seasoned pro to shovel up without much more than a bat or two of the eyelid. As our Beloved Glenn also mentioned, one wonders whether the chap might have dared to stray forward from his line beyond the eight or so millimetres that he seems to consider statutory – but in truth when it comes to the technicalities of the profession I defer to others.

The headline, however, remained, that Lloris half-heartedly waggled a mitt when what was required was something made of far sterner stuff. The second goal left the dumb soul similarly red of face, involving as it did the cardinal sin of being bested at the near post. In his defence the whole episode did occur at double quick speed, the attacker’s header catching everyone off balance – but again, one would have expected Lloris to have had the apparatus arranged for such eventualities.

It was galling stuff, for several reasons. As mentioned, “error-prone” hardly does justice to the state of things, for off the top of one’s head one can name half a dozen pretty seismic howlers bearing his signature from the last couple of seasons. Within this mess, he has at least generally been able to fall back on the fact that he is a shot-stopper par excellence – but these two goals, plus that against Burnley at the weekend, suggest that his powers are fading at a fair old lick.

And frankly, the team as a whole having surpassed expectations by starting the game with intent and a reasonable threat, to have the captain and last line of defence undo the good work going on around him, by conceding two soft ones within the first twenty minutes, had about as elevating an effect on matters as shoving a pin into a balloon.

2. Winks – Not A Defensive Midfielder

After a reasonable opening ten minutes, in which our high press threatened to reap benefits, calamity struck when Leipzig found a pretty straightforward way of dealing with this – namely winning an individual battle or two in midfield. Within a blink of an eye they were racing at various isolated unfortunates within our defence, and it was a problem with which we never really got to grips.

Seeing their mob race towards our goal, with Harry Winks five yards behind in their slipstream, did make me wonder what effect a bona fide defensive midfielder might have had. At the weekend vs Burnley, the repositioning of Eric Dier from centre-back to defensive midfield, in the second half, helped contribute to a marked improvement. In Leipzig, Winks looked pretty woefully ill-suited to such a task.

One does not question the young pup’s willing, but positionally he appeared way off the mark, rarely in the appropriate spot for an interception, and typically caught too far upfield to effect any sort of tackle or simply to slow or divert an onrushing attacker. A feature of every Leipzig attack seemed to be Winks’ distinctive white boots labouring to make up ground.

It does beg the question – what is the lad’s purpose? Not a defensive midfielder, and still too reticent in his passing to be considered an attacking fulcrum, of the Lo Celso ilk, he appears best suited as a spare man in midfield, keeping possession ticking over – but something more substantial is needed.

He has churned out enough proactive displays to merit his place as a squad member, but indispensable he currently is not.

3. Sessegnon Looking Devoid of Confidence

The rather predictable gag about Dele Alli’s brother taking his place on the pitch takes a turn for the complicated when applied to Ryan Sessegnon, as he does indeed have a brother who peddles his wares in the same profession.

However, the moral of the story remains intact, because the Sessegnon currently on display at N17 has not yet offered even a whiff of the starlet signed to generous fanfare in the summer.

One suspects he will come good in time, so no need to panic; and there are numerous mitigating circumstances the defence lawyers might reasonably point to – injuries, chopped and changed formations and personnel, generally dreadful performances all around him – so nobody in their right mind is demanding the chap’s head.

It was simply disappointing to see such a promising young egg look so devoid of confidence. Rabbits in headlights have looked more inclined to take on their man, or more likely to beat him. His short passes are often inaccurate and he rarely contributes to neat interplay in the way that Aurier occasionally does on t’other flank. And when one points to Aurier as an example of what ought to be done correctly, one knows that matters are pretty serious.

In time young Sessegnon will almost certainly come good. It is just a dashed shame that a point in the season when the squad is depleted, and opportunity practically bangs the door down, he does not appear ready to step up.

4. Aurier’s Latest

On the subject of Aurier, another game brought another catastrophic error. To his credit he does find new and inventive ways of strewing calamity, the 360 degree pivot while preparing a headed clearance certainly making a change from the usual rash lunges on terra firma.

The sale of Trippier looks ever-more bizarre by the game; the need for someone with just a smidgeon of defensive sense to take over at right-back, ever more pressing.

5. No Shortage Of Effort In Attack

As mentioned above, our lot actually produced a surprisingly sprightly opening ten minutes, giving the impression that a reasonable fist of things might be made.

In a pleasingly retro homage to a former Glorious Leader, they began with a high press, led by the forwards, and for a couple of exciting minutes one even half-expected to see Messrs Rose and Walker gallop up the flanks in support.

More fool those of us observing from the pews. By the time the second goal came around the stuffing had disappeared from within us and was ambling away and out of sight. Instead of prime Rose and Walker we now have undercooked Sessegnon and unreliable Aurier.

And instead of Kane and Son we have whomever is still standing. Dele, Lucas and Lamela did not click at any point, but I quite happily exonerate them, and save my muttered imprecations for others.

There was no shortage of willing amongst the three of them, and by the time the game drifted into its final half hour I rather wanted to give each of them a consoling pat on the shoulder.

Play together week in and week out, and they possess between them enough quality and energy that they might stumble upon a dashed effective understanding. But consistency of approach does not appear to be The Jose Way, nor does any obvious plan, and so it was unsurprising that when thrown together as a triumvirate for the first time they simply failed to click.

Calling Spurs fans from the ‘60s – I’d love you to contribute to my latest book on Tottenham fans’ favourite players. Just leave a comment below, drop me a line at aanp1999@gmail.com, or tweet @aanp_spurs

Burnley 1-1 Spurs: Six Tottenham Talking Points

I hesitate to say it goes from bad to worse, because we went into this one on the back of a home defeat to relegation fodder after which one of our number waded in to throttle a ‘fan’. So strictly speaking this was a marked improvement, given that no defeat was recorded and relationships between players and fans appeared to be in perfect harmony.

Nevertheless, it does not require particularly forensic analysis to identify that this was again pretty limp stuff.

1. Ndombele (And Jose’s Treatment Of The Chap)

As is often the case, Our Glorious Leader appeared to have given more thought to his post-match narrative than to righting the multiple wrongs on the pitch, with few left in doubt about the identify of the latest scapegoat de jour.

Monsieur Ndombele was the unlucky punter, suffering the twin ignominies of being hooked at half-time and then given both barrels by Jose at the press conference.

One understands the frustration. When we bought the young egg last summer the trailers advertised a pretty dominating sort, capable of muscling his way onto the ball, weaving past all-comers and then splitting defences as if shelling peas.

And rather gallingly, the evidence has actually hinted that the young man’s locker does indeed contain all of the aforementioned. It’s all just packed away so tightly that he seems to require special dispensation to access it, if you get my drift.

Each appearance will feature a few choice flashes of his talents, as if to tease seasoned watchers into thinking the reincarnation of Mousa Dembele walks amongst us, but it all occurs in such fitful manner that invariably we depart murmuring frustrations at his inability to produce his act on something close to a 24-7 basis.

Yesterday was a particularly egregious example. Ndombele was sound if unspectacular in his passing, and on a couple of occasions attempted that neat trick of wriggling out of pretty confined spaces, but in the area of busting a gut to win possession from the Burnley midfield he was notably absent, and his removal from proceedings, if maybe a tad extreme, was certainly understandable.

The chap’s fitness – or lack thereof – continues to startle, a good six months after he joined, but then these millionaire professional athletes will move in mysterious ways their wonders to perform. And a distinctive feature of the mysterious way in which Ndombele moves is that it all happens at approximately half the speed of the average footballer, and ends with him panting as if upon death’s door, which contributes in no small amount to opposing midfielders cantering away from him at will.

Here at AANP Towers we’re not entirely convinced that Jose’s repeated public castigation of the chap is quite the optimal way to manage him – but one might argue firstly that Jose has a dashed sight more experience in such matters than I; and secondly that it really doesn’t matter what I think because my influence in Jose’s behavioural choices appears strangely limited.

2. Skipp

So while Ndombele was being pelted with rotten fruit, his midfield partner of the first half walked away with not a blemish on his record.

I cannot profess to having ever been particularly awestruck by the performances of young O. Skipp Esquire. “Earnest and Nervous” about sums him up in my book, a chap who might consider himself a tad fortunate to be in the first team squad – and conducts himself as if he thinks along identical lines.

I actually thought that his midweek jolly against Norwich was one of his finest in lilywhite. Admittedly the competition in this department is hardly stiff, but we needed a midfielder who might put in a tackle or two and he did his best to oblige (albeit not to the extent that it stopped Norwich looking pretty comfortable in possession against us – a statement that pretty much sums up the state of things). On top of which Skipp is hardly one of life’s great risk-takers when it comes to demanding or using possession, striking me as more Harry Winks than Harry Winks himself.

That was against Norwich; yesterday against Burnley he seemed barely to be involved. In his defence two hours of energy exerted midweek presumably took its toll, on top of which his midfield partner, as mentioned above, was himself hardly a bundle of energy. However, Skipp’s presence yesterday appeared to be for little more than decorative value.

If this were his chance to cement a spot in the team, I suspect his argument might well be that he wasn’t actually there, and few who witnessed proceedings would be able to recall evidence to the contrary.

Jose, however, was having none of it, and exonerated the young pup of all blame. One awaits with curiosity to see whether actions match these words when it comes to future selections.

3. Dele Alli Upfront

An administrative error in each of the last umpteen transfer windows having left us short of a legally qualified striker, and Lucas Moura having been run into the ground in recent weeks, Dele Alli was the poor sap square-pegged into service atop the formation yesterday, and it was hard not to feel for him.

He went about it gamely enough, reasoning that, irrespective of his nominal position he was still Dele Alli and must therefore try to backheel and nutmeg his way through proceedings, and was only a heartbeat away from doing so to goalscoring effect as early as the first minute.

In general however he was limited by simply not having been on the roster when Mother Nature was carving out strikers. Service hardly overflowed, but whenever my best mate Jan did whip in a cross, Dele’s approach to life betrayed that of a man more accustomed to making a late burst into the box rather than being the focal point of attack.

He, Lamela and Bergwijn did their best to one-two their way to glory, but it was all rather narrow and intricate, and in the first half at least, Burnley were not unduly threatened.

4. Second Half Improvement

Mercifully things improved after half-time. Whether this was due to the change in personnel or formation is debatable, and convincing cases could be made for both lines of argument.

The switch to a back four meant that our midfield population increased significantly; the presence of Lo Celso brought a hitherto unseen creative spark.

I dare not ask Eric Dier what he made of being shunted from centre-back to defensive midfield, but he made a good enough fist of it that young Skipp might have been advised to take a shorthand note or two; and if Lucas were aggrieved that his evening off had been rudely interrupted he did not show it, and in fact gave a convincing impression of a domestic dog being allowed a bonus run in the park, bounding around with energy and to pretty decent effect.

In short however, all that was good tended to emanate from Lo Celso, and the others simply followed his lead. The equaliser, on balance, was deserved, and it was just a shame that some encouraging second half attacks did not bear the fruit that seemed possible.

5. Sanchez – Something Of A Shocker

For fairly understandable reasons Our Glorious Leader began with a back three, and indeed a total of five centre backs across the width of the pitch, which rather telegraphed his expectation that we were in for an aerial joust.

One understood the logic, but unfortunately Davinson Sanchez seemed to have identified 7 March 2020 to be as good a date as any other to peddle the very worst he had to offer.

In recent weeks I have actually identified the chap as one of the brighter performers, but yesterday’s was a pretty wild deviation from this contemporary history.

His inability to judge a flighted cross seems ingrained into his DNA, so these moments, while unwelcome, at least did not surprise. However, seeing him outmuscled, dispossessed and tripping over his own feet was as unpleasant as it was unexpected, and although lines of communication generally appeared to have been cut between him and the rest of the defence, Messrs Alderweireld, Dier and Tanganga were at least sufficiently savvy to come flying in with last-ditch interceptions that maintained a level of decency.

6. Random Right-Wing Serge Aurier

With the game in the balance in the final stages, and substitute options limited, Jose stuck out his tongue at all those critics who accuse him of being out of touch with the modern game by not just thinking outside the box but removing himself from the box completely and throwing into the recycling bin, with the introduction of Serge Aurier into a right-wing role.

There is a precedent of sorts in lilywhite, as I recall Danny Rose having occasionally been stationed ahead of, say, Ben Davies, out on the left-wing, but nevertheless I would not be deceiving my public to say that the sight of Aurier galloping into position ahead of Tanganga left me momentarily stunned.

In theory however, such a move made a lot of sense. As we are all now well aware, Aurier’s impeccable sense of calamity makes him quite the liability at right-back; whereas if his compass points north he offers a handy attacking threat, being one of the better purveyors of whipped crosses on the market. Stationing him in a right-wing role for twenty minutes therefore removes the Con while retaining the Pro, so to speak.

And in practice too, as it happened, the move had much to recommend it. Lucas shuffled off into the centre, and Aurier seemed eager to get stuck in, offering decent link-up play, decent pace and one or two of those crosses.

One idly speculates what went through Gedson’s mind as all this unfolded, but the cameo was certainly innovative, and, in a way that unfortunately rather sums up how far we have sunk, was probably one of the highlights of the evening.

Calling Spurs fans from the ‘60s – I’d love you to contribute to my latest book on Tottenham fans’ favourite players. Just leave a comment below, drop me a line at aanp1999@gmail.com, or tweet @aanp_spurs

Spurs 2 – 3 Wolves: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. 60 Vaguely Encouraging Minutes

A shame we lost this one – well, it always is a shame to lose – but a particular shame to lose this one, because I thought that, at least until we went behind, our lot played fairly well.

Some qualifying context is perhaps needed here. I heard a pretty nifty gag once, which went along the lines that in a land full to the rafters with blind folk, any chap who happened to be one-eyed would as likely as not be king. And that sprang to mind today, as I watched our lot hit the front-foot pretty much straight off the bat, for it struck me that in the land of the utterly dreadful performances at home to Leipzig and away to Chelsea, today’s fare was, by comparison, something of an unexpected improvement.

Such has been the rot peddled in recent weeks that I fully expected that a match at home to Wolves would see us stuck in 30% possession territory, allowing our visitors to roll the ball around amongst themselves unchallenged and perhaps launching a desperate salvage operation in the final 20. Because let’s face it, we now have a certain recent history in this woeful regard.

So instead to be greeted by the sight of Harry Winks collecting the ball, ambling forward ten yards and then bopping a pass forward another ten yards was pretty sensational stuff.

(I single out young Winks not for any particular reason, as to a man our lot seemed to have their dials switched if not exactly to ‘Attack’ then seemingly to ‘Let’s At Least Be A Little More Progressive In Our Approach Than In Recent Weeks’. I suppose seeing Winks embody this approach was just a little eye-catching, as he’s not always been one of nature’s born forward-passers.)

And for an hour or so we looked good value for a lead – but alas, Wolves are no mugs, and as befits the non-mug ilk they’re also pretty dashed clinical in front of goal. Thus having got their noses ahead they shut up shop and that, for a mob as limited as ours, was that. Not even the inspired decision to throw on the boy Parrott for the entirety of injury-time could effect the required rescue.

Still, having seen glimpses of quick passes from middle-to-top, and the sort of level of off-the-ball movement that suggests the collective torpor might have been shaken off, I at least trudged home a notch of two up from the Pit Of Despair that had taken hold post-Leipzig and -Chelsea.

2. Lucas

For that halcyon first hour or so when we made a decent fist of things, Lucas struck me as one amongst our number who had doubled down on his spinach pre-match.

Although employed as often as not in a deep-lying position that may or may not have been part of a strikerless formation, he seemed to be at the hub of things, evidently having adopted as his word of the day ‘Scamper’. For every time he touched the ball he scampered like a man who had amassed prizes for it in a former life.

There is something particularly compelling about watching a man get his head down and dribble mazily past the despairing, hacking legs of opponents, and when on song Lucas channels his inner playground footballer like few others.

Ultimately the effect of all this was not as devastating as one would have hoped, but with Messrs Aurier, Lo Celso, Alli and Bergwijn all happy to assist, there appeared to be potential for a most welcome rise in spirits about the place.

3. Aurier

The slightly unlikely source of the mid-game hoick in spirits was Serge Aurier, who continues to flit effortlessly between sublime and ridiculous.

His finish for two-one was taken with a huge dollop of aplomb, and in the second half, with a whole chorus of angels by now stationed on one shoulder and whispering sweet nothings at him, he delivered a couple of delicious crosses of the whipped variety, that deserved better than simply to have been watched and admired from afar by panting midfielders.

However, the pack of devils stationed on his other shoulder rarely go five minutes without making their presence known, as we well know. And so it was that misplaced simple pass followed misplaced simple pass, efforts to wriggle casually free off attention ended in ceding possession, and at one point he simply picked up the ball when under the illusion that it had left the field for a throw-in – a faux pas which would have been classified as Peak Aurier were it not for the countless red cards and penalties and own goals and whatnot that seem to be part of his very fabric.

4. The Back Three

The extent of Jose’s defensive masterplan currently appears to be write all names on paper, pick them out of a hat and roll with them for the following 90, and so it was that we began with a three-man core of Dier, Sanchez and the boy Tanganga.

My sentiments on these three at the end of proceedings were decidedly mixed. Plenty of scribbles in both the Credit and Debit columns, if you follow my drift.

Take Dier, a great big log of a fellow whose star has taken a bit of a plummet in the eyes of AANP over the last few years. I actually thought he acquitted himself relatively well yesterday, exceeding expectations that were, admittedly, not far off the floor pre-match.

As often as not finding himself up against the man-mountain that is Adama Traore, a fate one wouldn’t really wish upon a loathed enemy, Dier seemed at first to have his wits about him, timing his tackles well and then bouncing back to his feet with a most serious expression etched across his face, a sure sign of knowing that a job is being done well and that admiring comment is heading one’s way.

And yet when push came to shove, the Wolves forwards ended up skipping past Dier and chums as if none of them were there (or, more accurately, as if they were certainly there but fitted with roller skates and attempting to navigate an ice rink covered in marbles). Wolves forwards sashayed one way; Dier and co flew off the way, Wolves forwards drilled the ball home. Thrice.

As such, my sentiments on Tanganga were not a million miles away from those on Dier. Lots of solid tackles, initially giving the sense that here was a chap who had arrived at the office in a mood not to be trifled with – but then suddenly undone by a pretty basic error for their first goal, followed by that roller-skate-ice-rink routine for the next goals.

Obviously Tanganga still has plenty of credit in the bank, and there really does appear to be an excellent defender waiting to emerge, but each of the three crucial moments that our lot had to defend were ultimately turned into pigs ears – and if one wanted to make the case that these cost us the game, there would be a decent stash of evidence at which to poke.

(For what it’s worth I’ve been increasingly impressed with Sanchez week by week, albeit his inability to judge the flight of airborne missiles still rankles a tad.)

So we find ourselves simultaneously on the cusp of the Top Four, in a fairly literal sense, and approximately a million miles away, on observing the dross being peddled on the turf. A run of wins would improve matters, an obvious style and identify even more so, so I suppose there is little more to do than stiffen the upper lip and hope for the best.

Calling all Spurs fans – if you like to contribute to my latest book on Tottenham fans’ favourite players, then leave a comment below, or drop me a line at aanp1999@gmail.com, or tweet @aanp_spurs

Spurs 2-0 Man City: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. Tactics

A much-needed restorative – as restoratives typically are – but I would be deceiving my public if I were to suggest that this was one of those performances bossed by Team Lilywhite throughout, with serene progress being the order of the day and barely a bead of sweat between the eleven.

Truth be told, we scored from two of our three shots, and they from none of their near-twenty, and while the outcome of proceedings is neatly summarised by the epithet “Two-nil”, the story of the thing is better encapsulated by that two-from-three-plays-nought-from-circa-twenty gag.

(Although even that doesn’t tell the half of it, as there were all manner of sub-plots and embellishments, in the form of red cards, VAR, rattling woodwork and whatnot.)

As per the shots on goal stat, this was one of those binges in which no secret was made of the fact that our lot were going to sit tight, organise themselves into “Repel” mode and close their eyes and blindly hope that the ball channeled its inner Spurs fan when deciding which way to bounce. Extraordinarily enough, each of these three critical factors were achieved, and off into the sunset we toddled, three points the precious cargo.

Now being the sort whose greatest influence in their formative years were Ossie’s 5-0-5 formation, and the 4-3 whirlwinds it generated, I can’t say that I’m particularly enamoured of seeing our heroes set up to defend for their lives and play on the counter, but on this occasion – and, one suspects, on others to come – this was a pragmatic enough approach, so one bites the tongue and silently complies. It seemed to be for the greater good.

However, we tried a similar approach a few weeks ago at home to Liverpool, and on that occasion I did not hold back, some stinging rebukes, you will no doubt recall, decorating these very pages. What has changed, you may ask? Well, the scoreline, for a start – questionable tactical approaches are always strangely more palatable when they result in victory after all.

But more than that I was taken by the fact that yesterday our counter-attacking hinged on quick, short passes from defence to midfield to attack, as if a game of pass the parcel were being played at close quarters with a particularly hot potato. It was generally five- to ten-yard stuff, and there was little dithering or standing on ceremony.

This all sat in pleasing contradistinction to the decidedly more neanderthalic counter-attacking efforts against Liverpool, which seemed purely to revolve in blasting the ball sixty yards from defence at every opportunity, and waving the forwards off into the distance with an encouraging yell of “Run, Forrest.”

Yesterday we undoubtedly benefited from the fact that City hit pretty much everything except the net at which they were aiming – and the limited intelligence of the lad Zinchenko – but nevertheless our nifty counter-attacking played a crucial role.

2. Lo Celso

And foremost amongst those executing the nifty counter-attacks – the Nifty Counter-Attacker-In-Chief, if you will – was Lo Celso, an egg whose talents in this area are fast establishing him as the most important cog in our attacking machinery.

Ever since we turned the corner and became actually half-decent at this football lark, elbowing our way into the Top Four and then retaining that spot even as it morphed into a Top Six, the hills have been alive with the sound of groans at our laboured inability to break down defensive teams, due to dwelling on the ball, taking five or six touches and the reverting to the most impotent sideways and backward passes conceivable.

Now Man City are hardly the poster boys for teams that come to the Lane to defend – quite the opposite in fact – but the tendency amongst our midfield to take far more touches than decency permits has generally remained strong.

Yesterday, however, Lo Celso was having none of it. Here was a chap who already has a picture in his head of everyone’s whereabouts long before he receives the ball, and is therefore able to shove it along with minimum fuss and maximum effectiveness as soon as it reaches him. It makes a heck of a difference.

If nothing else it obliges opponents to interrupt their slumbers and shift their own positions, and also has the pleasing side effect of encouraging fellow lilywhites similarly to ping the ball around in prompt fashion (notably Winks, who on several occasions seemed suitably emboldened to pick forward passes, to which I’d previously assumed he were allergic).

As well as a gift for delivering both simple and complex passes without hesitation, Lo Celso also comes across as the sort who did not shove his vegetables to the side of his plate as a youth, bounding around throughout with pleasing energy, and also surprisingly willing to throw himself into physical contact. Here, one gets the sense, is a bean around whom a team could be built.

3. Tanganga

Meanwhile, in the less glamorous seats, Japhet Tanganga’s mind-boggling rise continued.

Having all but silenced Sadio Mane on debut, here he made a mighty impressive fist of things against the combined might of City’s manifold and whizzy attacking sorts, generally matching them for pace and beating them for strength throughout. His judgement occasionally wavers, but this, one would imagine, will improve with experience.

Various, more vaunted luminaries around him may benefit from peering across and taking a note or two, because Tanganga at times looked the most secure of the back-four (admittedly competition in this area was not strong, with Sanchez struggling in his first half distribution to distinguish between friend and foe, and Aurier delivering his customary aberration like clockwork).

If Lo Celso is the creative hub around which a future team could be built, Tanganga has the look of a chap upon whom a solid defensive foundation could be constructed.

4. Lloris

This felt like pretty cathartic stuff for Monsieur Lloris, for all sorts of reasons.

Firstly, the recent injury would presumably have hovered over him like a malevolent imp whispering unedifying notions in his ear, as he was tested throughout in both the shot-stopping and cross-handling departments. It is indicative of how his star has fallen in recent seasons that I was pretty taken aback at quite how faultless his handling was.

A World Cup-winning captain he might be, but the mistakes have flowed pretty thick and fast, so yesterday was one heck of an occasion to churn out his A-game.

On top of which, the penalty save was worth a goal in itself, and in the context of the game probably worth several, for if City had scored first one could well imagine with a shudder quite what carnage might have followed.

Oddly enough, it was not much more than a season ago that I would quite publicly bemoan the fact that I had never seen the blighter save a penalty in his whole Tottenham career. Yet in recent memory he has done so against Woolwich, Leicester and now twice against Man City, and each time in games in which they made a match-changing difference. It just goes to show, what?

Of course, Lloris being Lloris, within two shakes of a lamb’s tail of saving the penalty he was doing his best to concede another, but VAR oddly turned a blind eye, and the reckless oeuf remained a hero.

5. Bergwijn

A passing nod also to young Master Bergwijn, who has bagged himself a decent amount of credit in the bank with that quite marvellous chest and volley. Gorgeous technique, which just illustrates how well things can go when the stars align.

The finish elevated the chap’s debut to some heady heights, when in truth his contribution had until then been limited to a couple of touches of style, and fairly minimal substance.

Early days of course, so this is not to chide him. His box of tricks evidently is evidently a pretty sizeable one, and he appears to have a burst of pace about him and does not shirk a challenge.

However, he was a relatively peripheral figure in the first half, throwing in some nifty footwork on occasions as if to remind us that he was still in residence, before disappearing from sight completely in the second half, until his goal.

One gets the impression that we will only be able to make a full assessment from next season, when he is fully up to speed – and fitness – but it was nevertheless a cracking way to begin life in these parts.

AANP would like to hear from you! I am compiling my latest book, on Spurs fan favourites – if you were a fan of the club in any era from 50s/60s through to 90s/00s, please drop me a line at aanp1999@gmail.com, or tweet @aanp_spurs

Spurs’ Transfer Window: 5 Tottenham Talking Points

1. Farewell Danny Rose

When history looks back on the Tottenham career of D. Rose Esq. it is difficult to know quite what sort of conclusions will be drawn. One of the more curious eggs, for sure, he has something of the Russian doll about him, in that just when you think you have him sussed he pops open to reveal another layer, which requires fresh examination – and can be a tad unnerving if you’re not expecting it.

On the pitch, the whole tempestuous affair began in fairly rollicking style, with that thunderbolt volley against the Woolwich, numerous moons ago. Quite the entrance, but finer hours were to come, notably a few years ago when he and Kyle Walker on the opposite flank established themselves as the galloping full-backs against which all other galloping full-backs would be compared.

In common with Master Walker, Rose hit upon the belting notion that every time he took to the pitch he would contest his personal duels as if his life depended upon winning them. One could never be too sure about his commitment to the club – quite the contrary in fact, as he often emitted the distinctive whiff of a chap who didn’t care too many jots for London and its assorted entertainments – but it mattered little.

Once on the pitch he would skulk around with the air of one pretty vexed with all going on around him, staring daggers at all who dared to cross him and hurtling around the place as if he had made a pact with some unseen entity either to kick little lumps out of others or have little lumps kicked out of himself. And it just happened that he wore the lilywhite while all this took place.

His commitment to the challenge, married to sufficient bucketloads of energy that handily enabled him to charge both north and south as circumstances required, made him one heck of a full-back.

Undoubtedly in the last 12 months or so his powers waned. The stares and glares remained, as ever, those of a man fed up to the back-teeth by all going on around him, but the pitch-long gallops were less frequent and effective, and his crossing at times became a little wild, the distribution not quite as of old. (Although there was still time for a charming swansong, his being the nutmeg and cross-field pass that set in motion our Champions League comeback against Ajax.)

However, the rather damning conclusion was that he ended his Tottenham career behind novices like Tanganga and Sessegnon, and the creakily-limbed Vertonghen, in the left-back pecking order.

All of which is to say nothing of his off-pitch behaviour. While the chap has been rightly applauded for the candid manner in which he has spoken on many issues, one did read some of his interviews about life at Spurs and get the impression that he skipped those classes on tact, delicacy of phrasing and subtlety.

A favourite of Poch he may have been, and for a couple of halcyon seasons few around were more full-blooded in the challenge, but whatever affection he may have held for the club pretty evidently went up in smoke some years back, and by the time he legged it back up north last week I daresay the air was rich with sighs of relief from all concerned.

2. Toodle-Oo Christian Eriksen

It has been a big week for the jettisoning of cargo that was once looked upon fondly but is now mildly embarrassing to be seen with. Having quite happily allowed his soul to depart the premises a good 12 months ago, Christian Eriksen finally exited in body as well, with few kinder sentiments ringing in his ears than some moody shrugs from the regulars, and the odd ripple of polite applause amongst the grumbles.

As with the aforementioned Rose, one struggles neatly to summarise the Tottenham career of Eriksen.

As with Rose, there were a couple of seasons when we were blessed to have a fellow in our midst who was evidently at the peak of his powers. At times he glided around the place like a man who, if not quite possessed of the Midas Touch on a 24-7 basis, certainly had a pretty regular subscription to the stuff.

Many were the games threatening to drift away from us in dreary fashion that he rescued with a late, long-range thing of beauty; on top of which the young bean was the fortunate recipient of twin blessings from Mother Nature, in the form of both the vision to pick an exquisite pass and the technique to deliver it.

All impressive stuff, and we natives purred over it often enough, but the ongoing frustration throughout his career was that for a nib who quite obviously was a hit when it came to producing the good stuff stuff, he did not therefore make it his default setting. Honestly, if you or I woke up one morning and found we were as talented at this football lark as Christian Eriksen, surely we would spend the entire 90 minutes each week demonstrating exactly that?

Easy to criticise from the armchairs of AANP Towers of course, but depending on my mood I would scratch chin or pull out hair in varying levels of exasperation that Eriksen did not employ himself from first minute to last in dictating games and pulling strings. Once or twice a game he would pull out some wondrous feat of creativity, as if the urge had only just struck him – but for the rest of the game he seemed happy to slink off into the shadows, as if he preferred the anonymity of being a mere mortal slumming it with the rest of the Premier League.

The fact that once or twice a game he would make such decisive contributions would be enough to fool the casual Match of the Day viewer into thinking that from start to finish such games were The Christian Eriksen Show, in which the other 23 were merely supporting cast. Alas, the truth was quite often that he had spent the remainder of the game shuttling about the place to negligible effect (and rolling his corners straight into the first defender).

On the biggest stage of them all, the Champions League Final, Eriksen curled up into a ball and watched quietly as events unfolded around him, as if aghast at the thought of disturbing matters. One does not want to lay it on too thick, but to fade out of existence at the time when we needed him most had a vaguely symbolic air to it.

3. Lo Celso Becomes Permanent

As I understand, once upon a time those who wanted to get ahead in life would remark, every time the reigning monarch biffed off this mortal sphere, “The King is dead, long live the King”, the gist of the gag being that before the previous incumbent was even cold all attention had turned to the newly-installed punter.

I mention this because a similar set of circumstances appears to be unfolding at N17. The air of North London still retains traces of Eau de Eriksen and already the chap has been consigned to the annals, with his heir apparent having wasted little time in getting up to speed.

Lo Celso is now permanently on the payroll, having been upgraded from Loanee to Fully-Fledged Lilywhite last month. After a few brief cameos in the early months, recent weeks have seen the young cove go through the whole caterpillar-chrysalis-butterfly routine with some aplomb, and it’s not a huge exaggeration to say that others on the pitch, as well as thousands in the stands, are now looking to him above all others to provide creative spark.

In the last couple of games in particular one cannot help but notice that amidst the humdrum of sideways passing and cul-de-sac meandering, Lo Celso’s contributions have generally been to pick and deliver a pass that has parted opposition defences like an Old Testament deity having his way with the Red Sea.

It’s precisely the sort of stuff we require in spades, especially against the more defensive types, and it’s the sort of stuff that Eriksen, if you remember the chap, would spray about the place on all too rare occasions. One does not want to get ahead of oneself, but the early signs are that Lo Celso has a bit more appetite for this sort of thing, which in my book makes him a shrewd signing.

4. Fingers Crossed for Fernandes and Bergwijn

As for the other two arrivals, I cannot claim to be one of those who pores over foreign matches, analysing each player on show. As such I cannot provide much info on either of Messrs Fernandes and Bergwijn, other than to note that the latter’s YouTube compilations make for pretty underwhelming viewing, featuring numerous instances of him being bundled to the ground or smashing a shot wide. One assumes that The Brains Trust has a better grip on affairs.

More encouragingly, it is simply a relief to have brought in a couple of reinforcements. I don’t subscribe to this bilge about the first eleven being perfectly hunky-dory and therefore there being no need for any further signings. For a start, our first eleven has slopped pretty dramatically off-kilter in recent months.

But more to the point, even if Fernandes and Bergwijn are not noticeable improvements on the current residents, their very presence at training ought to make the likes of Dier, Winks, Lucas and Lamela think to themselves “What ho, we’ve got some competition here, might be time to buck up our ideas and raise our levels a notch or two.”

Proven world-beaters they might not be, and Danny Rose would presumably have greeted their arrivals with some prize chuntering, but in these injury-hit times I’m happy to stand them a bourbon or two.

5. New Strikers (Or Absence Thereof)

Perhaps the most striking feature of this transfer window was neither an arrival nor departure but the complete absence of activity on the centre-forward front.

With Harry Kane having broken his fingernail as early as 1st Jan, there was plenty of time for those tasked with such things to get themselves down to the nearest charity shop and bag themselves a striker – yet come 1st Feb the cupboard was depressingly bare.

Not being privy to the machinations of striker-purchasing one can only speculate as to the reasons why we remain one proven goalscorer light, but the net result is that we are ill-equipped for the rigours of the spring and summer months. This parlous state of affairs is added to by the fact that Jose’s modus operandi rather depends on most eggs being placed into the Sizeable Centre Forward basket. Between the long balls from Toby and crosses from Aurier, ours is a team increasingly set up for some sort of Homme de Target, as the French no doubt put it.

Instead we are now left to make do with Sonny and Lucas, and heaven help us if either of those should catch a sniffle or worse. Both are of course handy sorts in their own ways, but when Nature was fashioning Target Men from scratch it’s a pretty fair bet that these two were not amongst the prototypes.

The names of Giroud, Willian Jose and Piatek were mentioned at various points during January, and these three being affordable and willing enough, it is a pretty cruel blow to saunter away from the bargaining table with not one striker to our name.

Game by game no doubt all involved will make a decent stab at it, but all things considered this has been yet another of those transfer windows that leaves one in pretty low spirits, and frankly the approaching months have a fairly gloomy look about them.

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Spurs 2-1 Middlesbrough

1. Much Improved, One-Touch Performance

That puts a rosier glow on the cheeks, what? A win that that was vastly more comfy and snug than the scoreline suggests, and delivered with the sort of breezy panache that makes one wonder what all the fuss has been about.

Now at this point one probably ought to pause, scour the surroundings and dive behind the nearest, sizeable inanimate object, to shield oneself from the countless caveats being slung this way. Foremost amongst these caveats is probably the fact that Middlesbrough just didn’t put up much resistance, instead tripping over themselves to allow us a goal at the earliest possible opportunity, and thereafter sitting back and allowing us to pass triangles around them for as long as we pleased.

So be it, folk these days will have different approaches to life’s problems. It’s a consequence of democracy, apparently. However, there have been a pretty thick stack of fixtures this season against the Middlesbroughs of this world – teams that, without wanting to put too fine a point on it, simply don’t possess that much God-given quality – and we have made quite the elaborate pig’s ear of swatting them aside.

So on this occasion I am pretty content to accept that our opponents were not amongst the finest ever to grace turf, and nevertheless bask in the glory of a match deservedly won and, more to the point, a performance that hit all manner of right notes.

Crucially, for much of the game, our passing was of the one- or two-touch variety. This sort of fare is not only easy on the eye, but – and here’s the rub – has the added benefit of being the sort of stuff that can cut an opponent to ribbons before they know what has hit them.

Where it has been hiding these past few weeks I could not say. Why our heroes have opted against its use I do not know (although I could hazard a guess that better opponents do not simply step aside and wave us along with adoring eyes). But from the off we were in full Quick Passing Mode, and the suggested dosage did not disappoint.

I don’t mind admitting that our weekend approach (which, you will recall, consisted largely of trying to soak up Liverpool pressure and then blast long balls forward in the hope of sneaking a goal) made my eyes bleed and soul howl. This judgement was met with some pretty stern words from various quarters, with knives sharpened and spears pointed, as if to suggest that mine was not an opinion that would win the public vote. Democracy, once again, in action.

Despite the negative press, I stick to my words, and was therefore greatly soothed by last night’s offering. Credit to all involved, both for looking to pick an early pass at every opportunity, and for constantly buzzing around off-the-ball, in order to provide passing options for those in the hotseat.

2. Lo Celso Continues to Make The Right Noises

Foremost amongst those doing the off-ball buzzing were two of our vaunted Argentine cousins. Lo Celso has taken a little time adjust, but his various cameos have tended to include flickers of promise, and yesterday, given the platform of a starting spot against weak opposition, he looked like a chap who enjoys this sort of thing.

As mentioned, his energy levels ticked over at a healthy rate throughout. Rather like Mary’s little lamb, he was in pretty constant attendance of any of our lot who found themselves in possession, scurrying towards them with arms outstretched and no doubt wide, pleading eyes.

This in itself is a positive, because too often in recent weeks our play has been characterised by one lone chap dabbing at the ball while looking around pleadingly for a chum to avail themselves.

But on top of this movement malarkey, I also enjoy seeing the light bulb in Lo Celso’s head suddenly flicker on when he has the ball at his feet, an idea form for an incisive pass and the whole routine culminate with an attempt to pick a particularly sneaky through-ball.

Admittedly a lot of these sneaky through-ball turn out to have been a lot more exciting at the stage of being initially pitched than as an end-product, given that they were quite often intercepted in transit. But still. In a world in which Harry Winks receives the ball on the half-turn but opts to send it back south to his defenders, seeing Lo Celso instinctively look for a killer pass into the path of a forward gives one hope for a brighter future.

3. Lamela Takes His Chance

In his own unique way, Erik Lamela was also at the hub of much that was good about our lot last night.

One sympathises with whichever poor soul was once paid to teach the infant Lamela his alphabet and three-times tables, because in adulthood the chap appears to be a fidget, so goodness knows what he was like when asked to weld himself to a tiny seat and stay there.

Lamela’s engine ran permanently throughout, and given the amount of possession we had in midfield it was just as well that it did. Like Lo Celso he was pretty constantly on the move, giving our deeper-lying sorts a constant moving target, and giving the Middlesbrough defence plenty about which to mull.

His goal was delightfully finished, but it was the opening salvo that I particularly admired, featuring the young nib chasing back to pickpocket his man, before whirring off into the area. The end-product is not always there with Lamela, and he does have a tendency to dwell too long on the ball, but at a time when our general play has looked lethargic and half-hearted, his presence perks things up no end.

4. Tanganga’s Education Continues

The great and the good were pretty misty-eyed about young Tanganga by the time the curtain came down on proceedings. One understands of course, for one likes to see the local lad take his chance, and he has certainly made a good fist of things in his two games so far, going toe-to-toe with a pretty exalted opponent on Saturday and then adapting well to a tweak in position last night.

To have flung the Man of the Match wreath around his neck struck me as maybe getting a little carried away, mind. He has exceeded expectations to date, and displayed plenty of the good, honest traits that one seeks in an imposing defender, but he is also decidedly rough around the edges.

He made a few mistakes last night – leaping in to challenges with the enthusiasm of youth, when circumstances might have called for simply standing his ground, and so forth. This is not at all to chide the young bean, but simply to suggest that it seemed a stretch to consider him the best player on the pitch.

That said, with Davinson Sanchez sporadically losing all sense of spatio-temporal awareness, Father Time rather cruelly giving Jan Vertonghen a poke in the ribs and Serge Aurier having repeatedly proven that for every positive forward run he will also generate an equal and opposite defensive calamity, the emergence of Tanganga – quick, strong, willing and pretty capable either picking the right pass or on the charge with ball at feet – has been one of the most positive developments for a while.

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