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Sheff Utd 3-1 Spurs: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. The Exciting Front Four In The First Half!

Nothing like a jot of positivity before we get stuck into the gloom, what? And in that jolly vein, I thought that in the first half, going forward our lot had a decent dollop of oomph.

In that glorious first 45, possibly excluding the opening 5 or 10 in which Sheff Utd started stronger, the case was made for a front four sans Dele, at least when counter-attacking. Lucas, Bergwijn and particularly Son seemed each to derive a certain pleasure from getting their heads down, revving up the motor and haring away.

Where Dele dances and pirouettes and takes umpteen touches seemingly intent on slowing things down so that we might all take our seats and marvel at the Dele Alli Fancy Touches Show, these three were keener to get from A to B in the quickest time possible.

The disallowed goal, far from knocking the stuffing from us, seemed instead to pique our lot, and by the time the half-time toot sounded an equaliser, if not exactly an inevitability, looked a heck of a decent bet.

Admittedly, despite our 70% possession, on the two or three occasions on which our hosts set foot in our area they looked like scoring, but more about our defensive shambles anon. For one further sentence, let’s just marvel at the first half threat we occasionally posed!

2. Yet Another of the Worst Performances We Can Remember (Esp. The Defending)

Thereafter, alas, things took a lurch southwards, and the second half ranks as one of our worst since the 90s – or it would do if there weren’t so many poor performances this season alongside which it shuffles neatly into place. Brighton away and Leipzig spring immediately to mind, but I suspect that I’ve managed successfully to expunge a couple of other debacles from the loaf, through the cunning use of copious amounts of post-match bourbon.

Back to the second half. As soon as the players were released from the traps the set-up began to wobble like the dickens. We continued to have the bulk of possession, making it a smashing evening for fans of multiple-touch football and slow and ineffective passes.

It was a less triumphant affair for those who had rather hoped that our lot might fight tooth and nail for every loose ball. It should not be possible to be so obviously second best despite having twice as much possession, and yet there in full technicolour was the proof.

As if the impotent attacking play and general lack of fight were not enough, we were also treated to defending the like of which had us rubbing our eyes and wondering if some elaborate hoax were in effect. Despite having been under the watchful tutelage of that supposed master of the art of defending, Our Glorious Leader himself, for the past few months, our lot approached their defensive duties in the style of a troupe to whom the concept of football had been newly introduced only an hour or two earlier.

It began in the first half, as each time a United player set foot in our area, despite there being copious bodies back in the general vicinity, not one of them thought to close the blighter down. We got away with it once or twice, but when United scored their opener the chap did so having had the time to settle in and make a cup of tea beforehand, despite half our team being in situ in the penalty area.

And then it happened again for their second. The various Tottenham bodies scuttled back into the six yard box, and then actively ignored the whereabouts of either ball or opposing players. They simply loitered in their chosen spots and watched as the United lot freely sauntered into the gaping spaces.

What the dickens is Jose teaching them? What are they saying amongst themselves? How are these paid professionals quite so incapable of grasping the basics?

Time for a sit-down and a stiff drink.

3. Pretty Poor Stuff in Midfield Too

Nor was this solely a disaster for the back four, although the tactic of squashing themselves into a narrow line within the six yard box and hoping that nothing bad would happen beyond that was pretty peculiar stuff. The midfield played their part by virtue of letting United breeze through them at will when on the defensive, and offering precious little going forward.

Perhaps I do them an injustice, when one considers the first half. Lo Celso certainly didn’t offer much, happy to slink into the shadows when he really ought to have been bounding around screaming for the ball so that he could direct operations.

But Sissoko in the first half made a couple of rather odd forays into the limelight, demonstrating much that is good and bad about him, often in the same motion. More than once he picked up possession from deep and charged forward in that unstoppable fashion of his, only to reach the point at which a decision ought to be made and duly panicking, in that slightly comical fashion of his.

The pair of them were neither a defensive shield nor a font of attacking ideas, and by the second half they numbered amongst our numerous passengers.

(A note on the rarely-sighted Ndombele: not much reason either to laud or chide the fellow, but the one pass he played, for an offside Son to pop into the net, was a little reminder that he does have in his locker absolutely exquisite vision.)

4. Lamela and His Many, Many Touches

I happened to read the other day that Erik Lamela has been at the club something like six or seven years now, which is a pretty extraordinary act of misdirection on his part. How did he get away with that?

So often hinting at a game-changing trick or two, and always charging around with the very welcome sackfuls of aggression but also rather regrettably low intelligence of a wounded bull, the young bean yet again expended a lot of energy without delivering anything of note.

Heaven knows how he fares in those training ground exercises in which only one or two consecutive touches are allowed, because he wanders the pitch with the air of one who was deprived of his own ball as a child, and now insists on keeping it to himself for as long as possible, before being swarmed upon by opponents.

Lockdown has been a test for all of us, but few things have driven me to swear out loud within an empty room like the sight of Lamela taking umpteen more touches than is necessary before messing up the end-product.

5. VAR – Not A Game-Changer, As We Were Perfectly Rubbish Without It, But Still Odd

Few right-minded folk will stomp their feet with too much animation about the VAR decisions, given how bad we were thereafter, but as ever the decisions did make one scratch the head and wonder if the point of spotting clear and obvious errors has been lost somewhat.

With respect to the disallowed goal, eggs is eggs and rules, unfortunately, are rules. Deliberate or not, fouled or not, if the ball hit Lucas’ hand then the case for the prosecution can sign off early. An iffy rule no doubt, but the honest souls paid to watch on a screen and make a decision are only carrying out orders.

My objection, rather, was that it did not appear 100% – or, to you use the parlance de jour, it was not “clear and obvious” – that the ball struck the hand/arm of Lucas at all. A case could be made that it did, a case could be made that it did not, but clear and obvious it was not. (And of course, it should have restarted with a free-kick.)

I was equally miffed that a moment or two later a Sheff Utd player (Norwood?) who had only just been booked escaped scot-free having taken a look at Sonny, raised an arm and given him a healthy clobbering to the head. A straight red card in the AANP book of such things, and even when looked at more objectively it might have been deemed a second yellow; but such is life’s rich tapestry.

Let none of it distract minds, however, from the fact that we were utter garbage and our defence is populated by incompetents.

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

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

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

Serenity Ruled

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

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

Serenity Rather Pointedly Brought To A Halt

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

Man-Love

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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