All Action, No Plot

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Spurs 0-2 Chelsea: Five Tottenham Talking Points

Against the backdrop of the pre-match buzz – around the closing of the gap, the master and the apprentice, the Top Four, and so on and so forth – the limp and error-strewn manner of this latest capitulation was scarcely believable. There was such a rich and bountiful catalogue of errors that one could quite comfortably file them alphabetically, and potentially colour-code them for good measure.

1. The Utterly Incomprehensible Gazzaniga Karate Kick

Going in at half-time 0-1 down would certainly have represented a deviation from the script that Jose and chums had been lovingly penning all week, but catastrophic it would not necessarily have been. A few stern words here, a cunning tactical switch there, and one might have thought our lot could have emerged for the second half, given the challenge the once-over and declared en masse “Far from insurmountable, what?”

Shortly before half-time, however, one of the more outstanding of the numerous moments of idiocy was rolled out. Quite what went through Gazzaniga’s head is a conundrum that will have the best and brightest minds in the country stymied for some years to come.

Heaven knows what sort of goalkeeping drills are undertaken at the shiny new training ground these days, but the art of simply catching a ball gently lobbed towards them like a dandelion in the breeze has evidently had the dickens complicated out of it. After Lloris dropping a harmless cross at the feet of a striker a yard from goal, and dislocating his elbow in the process, a few weeks back, when required to carry out the task – mastered by all seven of my nephews and nieces shortly after nappies – of catching a gently lobbed ball, yesterday we were treated to Gazza’s wild, head-height karate kick, which sat on the list of options some way beneath “Catch it – no, really, just catch the gently floating ball” and the criminally underrated “Or just leave it, to loop gently out for a goal-kick”.

The most reasonable explanation I can think of is that he forgot he possessed hands, which I suppose can happen from time to time, to a chap with a lot on his mind – and in his defence there has been an awful lot to ponder in this of all weeks, what with an election at one end of it and Christmas at the other. Even such a momentary and inconvenient moment of amnesia, however, did not preclude him from sticking his lot on the second option, and accepting the goal-kick.

If there were any murmurs that Gazza might be making a fist for the number one jersey on a permanent basis, I suspect they have been silenced by this little moment of career suicide.

2. Sonny’s Own Moment of Idiocy

Not to be outdone in the idiocy stakes – the notion of edging back into the game having long since been dismissed as folly of the highest order – Sonny decided to chip in with his latest in a growing series of fairly needless red cards.

The Everton red can be expunged from the records, and with good reason, but as against Bournemouth late last season this was a pretty unholy contribution to proceedings, and betrayed the fact that the chap has a flame within that needs quelling and pronto. We can’t have every opponent within his armspan tapping their forehead knowledgeably and giving him a sly prod here, sly dig of the elbow into ribs there and sly stomp on the foot elsewhere, safe in the knowledge that the red mist will descend and Son will wave a retaliatory limb in less sly fashion.

Some might object that Rudiger went down as if impaled by a narwhal task when actually the contact from Son’s boot was more akin to a tickle, and that nameless chorus would have a point. But, oddly enough, that point misses this point. Which is that if you wave your studs at someone’s chest, you automatically run the risk of the whole episode rolling into the High Court.

It’s something of a mantra around AANP Towers, but if you want to avoid being on the sharp end of an officiating decision – be it a soft penalty or a disputed red card – then simply don’t give the referee the option.

3. A Musing or Two on Tactics

Individual moments of mind-boggling lunacy aside, there was plenty else about which to sink head into hands (and that is deliberately limiting comment to on-pitch matters).

AANP approaches his football much as I understand the Romans approached the fun and games of the amphitheatre – wanting to be entertained by action, without too much consideration for the underlying plot. As such, the chapter in the AANP book on “Tactical Analysis” is a pretty light read, and I wouldn’t pretend to have layer upon layer of insight into the stuff.

The long and short of it seemed to be that Chelsea’s setup completely bewildered our mob. Both their back three and front three respectively seemed only too happy to saunter up the field and press, winning the ball high up the pitch and denying us options to escape.

As ever, Jose opted for the lopsided approach of Aurier roving up the right wing, while at left-back my best mate Jan kept a respectful distance south of the halfway line, and tucked in alongside the centre-backs. This single-wing-back take on life is all fun and games in matches against lower-quality dirge, but yesterday it was nullified from the off. Chelsea hit upon the notion of attacking Aurier – not rocket-science, given his track record for dancing with calamity at every opportunity – and with Vertonghen not daring to advance beyond halfway we were oddly narrow.

Sprinkle into that mix the painfully limited ball-playing abilities of Dier and Sissoko in central midfield, and it’s little wonder that our first half descended into an endless stream of pretty hopeful punts from the centre-backs that sailed harmlessly over everyone’s heads.
This is the normally the point at which I and the various other armchair critics come oiling out of the woodwork to rant and rave about Poch’s inability to make game-changing tweaks, so it is only fair to wag a similarly critical finger at Jose. The formation change at half-time did not have the desired effect, with Lucas’ role as near enough a wing-back simply resulting in him being asked to take on defensive duties for which, though willing, he has not been well equipped by nature.

4. General Lack of Anything Resembling Lustre

For all the hours of riveting tactical chuntering, there is a pretty lucid counter – or perhaps additional – thread of argument along the lines of “Tactics be damned if we simply outfight the other lot”.

Had our heroes came shooting out of the blocks like a whole brigade of moths legging it towards the nearest flame like their lives depended on it, then all the wonky full-backs in the world would have been of little consequence.

Instead, alas, as against Man Utd a few weeks back, so yesterday against Chelsea. Our lot turned up, had a quick look around and appeared immediately to decide that such competitive pursuits were beneath them. Chelsea, accordingly, won at a canter.

The complete absence of urgency was as baffling as it was maddening. Do these blighters not realise the magnitude of these things? One wonders what the hell else has been passing through their tiny brains all week if not the absolute imperative to strain every sinew going in pursuit of a favourable outcome at yesterday’s set-to.

Depressingly, Chelsea seemed to get the gist. From the off they were executing the high press – and, come to think of it the low and middling presses too – like they had been doing it all their lives. I did briefly hope that our lot might simply ride out the storm before vrooming into top gear, but such basic concepts were obviously far beyond their collective capacities, and within ten minutes Serge Aurier was doing his thing and Chelsea were ahead.

5. A Begrudging Word in Defence of Sissoko

I suppose it would be a little harsh – only a little, mind – to tar Sissoko with the same brush as the rest of the incompetents who wandered gormlessly across N17 between the hours of 16.30 and 18.30 while Chelsea made merry.

Man of the match stuff it was not, but Sissoko did at least have the decency, after watching the game bypass him for long enough, to roll his sleeves up, put his head down and attempt on several occasions to bludgeon his way through the entire Chelsea team. One understands his rationale, as nobody else in lilywhite had given the faintest indication that they were worth involving in the fightback.

It didn’t work, apart from the mild satisfaction of clobbering the Chelsea ‘keeper and getting away with it. But for the sake of the annals, let the records show that Sissoko was slightly less bad than the rest for some portion of the first half.

And that faintest of faint praise is about the only etching in the Credit column. This was sensationally poor fare. Mercifully the next games come thick and fast, and by the time 2020 lands this garbage ought to have been long forgotten.

Spurs 5-0 Burnley: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Sonny’s Wonder Goal

Only one place to start. Bless him, Sonny appeared to misread the invitation, and rather than going through the motions in dirge-like fashion as would befit a cold and wet December afternoon, he trotted out the sort of once-in-a-lifetime fare that one normally reserves for when the Queen oozes into town.

I suspect that even now, 24 hours later, some of the patrons are still on their feet applauding, because that was a goal the like of which is now only ever seen in the playground or on the computer box. Put bluntly, nobody dribbles past the entire team any more. It was a relic of a bygone era, and a pretty glorious one at that.

For all the tittle-tattle about Jose, new tactics, ballboys, and so on and so forth, there was something most gratifying about seeing a mist descend upon a player, and then seeing said player give a shrug as if to say “To heck with all this, I’m going to run the entire length of the pitch and take on literally every player in the opposing team before scoring”.

2. The Front Four

It seems over-generous to tip the hat in Dele’s direction, for the decoy run that created a yard of space for Son to set off on his gallop, because it would not have mattered if there were no team-mates on the pitch at all – Son would still have taken on anyone Burnley threw at him.

Nevertheless, Dele did head off in a westerly direction as Son headed north, and it struck me as a pleasing aspect of Jose’s Tottenham that enthusiastic backing from the supporting cast of forwards is very much a feature of our attacking play now.

Dele has attracted the recent headlines, Kane tends to score whatever the circumstances and Son will never stop buzzing around – but it is the fact that when the ball breaks this lot spring into action as a quartet (featuring Lucas or Sissoko, as appropriate, as the fourth musketeer) that catches the eye.

Watching all four of them hare off as one towards goal reminds me of those nature programmes in which a veritable gaggle of fish take it upon themselves to switch direction en masse, almost as if they’ve been rehearsing the move for weeks. Flocks of birds dabble in this practice too, I’ve noticed over the course of my thirty-eight summers. And now, on the signal of a ball blooted towards the opposition goal, our front four of Kane, Dele, Son and Lucas/Sissoko have taken this particular gag, first demonstrated in nature, and neatly perfected it while wearing football boots and Nike clobber.

It’s a heck of a party piece, providing numerous moving parts upon which the opposition defence need to keep tabs. As it happened, of our five goals, the one with the least to recommend it in the aesthetics department was the one which owed most to the all four members of the quartet. Lucas’ goal came about as a result of Sonny’s dribble, Kane’s decoy run and Dele snuffling for scraps. Had but one of them lost interest halfway through the routine, and ambled along towards the area at half-pace, the goal would not have been forced. Which just goes to show.

3. Kane – An Unlikely Undercard

The problem with the metronomic, robotic efficiency of Harry Kane is that after a while it is tempting to take the young stub for granted. One is inclined to mooch around noting that the sun has risen, a selection of leaves have fallen and Harry Kane has notched another goal. Human nature I suppose, and I am as guilty of this as the best of them.

So, easy though it is to lose sight of his input during a five-goal rout that featured arguably the goal of the season, one probably ought to scribble a note to remind oneself that Kane scored two – and not just that but his opener was all his own work and set a tone that was very necessary.

Had he not scored so early, one can never be quite sure how things might have panned out, but on the back of a mightily underwhelming midweek performance, a fast start was dashed handy stuff.

Nor was that opener a tap-in either, or the result of a finely-crafted team move. When he collected the ball the opposition goalkeeper may have began preparing his game-face, but one would be hard pressed to suggest that there was any imminent danger. And yet Kane demonstrated, not for the first time, that he does not really care for such niceties and social norms. Few others would think to leather a shot from that range, but that’s part of the quality of the chap.

That goal out of nothing set the tone, and within five minutes the game was as good as done.

And that is before mentioning the absolutely exquisite pass he played a moment later, inside the Burnley full-back and into the path of Aurier. It is likely to be forgotten as the dust settles and other highlights are re-watched, but during the entire game that pass was bettered only by Son’s goal. (The perfectly-weighted return pass for Sissoko’s goal was another masterpiece – and yet only the fourth best thing Kane did yesterday.)

4. Toby’s Long Passes

A feature of the Jose reign has been the welcome return, like some long-lost lover, of the sight of Toby Alderweireld pinging fifty-yard passes slap bang into the path of one of the attacking mob.

Quite why this feature disappeared from our play is an oddity, having been such a tool in the armoury for a couple of years, but disappear it did, as part of the general implosion of the final year or so of Poch’s reign.

However, it is back now in glorious technicolour, and wheeled out at least a couple of times each game – and why not? Not only does Toby have the happy knack of sticking a pass onto a postage stamp from absolute miles out, but the whole routine is a pretty nifty way of keeping opponents on their toes, varying the type of attack and making for a pleasant change from the short-pass routine.

It won’t always work, I suppose, but when dusted down and wheeled out yesterday all the pipes appeared in rude health, and we can expect it to continue to be a feature.

A rare clean sheet, an improved Dier shielding performance and some enthusiastic flaps from the younglings all helped to round off a pretty satisfactory afternoon. It’s the sort of thing we should be doing regularly at home against the middling lot – but it was a habit that became neglected under Poch, so this sort of result helps no end to shove us towards the Top Four.

AANP’s book is available online – making a handy Christmas present for the Spurs fan in your life – and you can follow an occasional toot on Twitter

Spurs 1-1 Watford: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Lots of Tinkering, No Obvious Strategy

If ever there were a sign that a manager is not quite sure how to fix things, it is when he makes 7 changes of personnel and a switch in formation, and then switches formation again at half-time.

Not entirely the fault of Poch of course, for if the eleven on the pitch last time out had performed to their abilities no changes would have been needed at all – but nevertheless. The current approach by Our Glorious Leader smacks of a chap whose best-laid plans are but a distant memory, and who is now experimenting his little heart out, with little clear strategy in place.

By and large Our Glorious Leader retains enough credit that the masses are willing to let him untie the various knots and restore some normality. But where previously there was a fairly clear approach – such as the high press, or faith in youth – and one might have correctly named nine or ten of the starting eleven, now it is difficult to know quite what the plan will be from one game to the next.

The first half performance duly reflected the confused organisation of things, with little discernible identity amongst our lot, and we ended up seeming to rely on Toby’s long punts as our main attacking gambit. Few on the pitch seemed particularly clear on how to go about their honest work, and the outputs were suitably uninspiring.

Poch has talked a lot about “trust” and “confidence” and various other concepts that seem to the AANP ears to wander rather off-topic, but I’m none the wiser about what tactical approach he thinks is best to reverse our fortunes. At present the approach appears to be try something new every half hour or so, until we strike oil.

2. Lack of Deep-Lying Creativity

The first half provided the sort of turgid fare that various lilywhite managers of the 90s fought tooth and nail to mark their own trademark.

It seemed from my vantage point that chief amongst our ills was the absence of a deep-lying playmaker, if you get my drift. A Modric/Carrick sort of chap, who could pick up the ball from the defenders and play a pass – long or short, the finer points matter little – that would bypass one or two opponents in the blink of an eye, and make its recipient sit up and say “What ho, if I point my compass north I might have a few yards of space into which to amble and make mischief”.

Or, indeed, a Dembele type of fellow, who, rather than pass, would simply dip a shoulder or puff out a chest, and breeze past one or two opponents – similarly in the blink of an eye – carrying the ball fifteen yards and forcing friend and foe alike to view proceedings in a different way.

Instead, our central midfield pairing were Winks and Sissoko. Now the effort of these two can hardly be faulted, and both have assets that are useful and have earned the respect and affection of most right-minded fans. However, neither of these young eggs really possess in spades the sorts of talents upon which Messrs Modric, Carrick or Dembele made their careers.

Sissoko has it in him to carry the ball 30 yards – which I suppose is the net effect of a Dembele – when a cloud envelops him and he seems to be possessed by some unearthly compunction to take on all-comers. But yesterday, and this season in general, that particular party-trick has remained in his locker.

And Winks constantly appears to be on the cusp of changing the game. He seems to tick numerous boxes – availing himself when defenders have the ball, picking up possession on the half-turn, driving forward – but ultimately his final pass, nine times out of ten, goes sideways or backwards. He keeps possession and fizzes with energy, but hardly tests opposing defences with his passing range.

The causes of these two were not helped by both Lucas and Dele generally adopting positions within a couple of yards of Kane, leaving precious little in the way of link-up between midfield and attack. (On the one occasion in which Lucas did drop a little deeper, the planets aligned and we almost scored – Winks fed Lucas straight through the middle, Lucas fed Dele – still straight through the middle – and, not standing on ceremony, Dele took our one and only shot on target in the first half.)

Anyway, on the point of deep-lying playmakers – perhaps Lo Celso or Ndombele can, in time, provide the answer. Or the more attacking sorts can simply drop ten yards deeper. Either way something has to change, because watching the ball end up with Toby time and again, to punt a hopeful diagonal, made the eyes water a tad.

3. Introduction of Son

Things perked up noticeably once Sonny was introduced – which, on reflection, is the sort of statement that would ring true on just about any given day in any given circumstances.

The removal of Sanchez and reversion from 3 centre-backs to 2 made bucketloads of sense. While Watford threatened on the counter a few times, the third centre-back was by and large a wasted player, given that his most significant role tended to be simply rolling the back right or left to his neighbouring centre-back, in what was reminiscent of those pointless bureaucratic processes one sometimes encounters in life.

Watford did not present enough of a threat to merit such defensive caution; and if the idea were more of an attacking one, to allow our wing-backs to bomb forward in the manner of Walker-and-Rose-circa-2016, it fell pretty flat. I have called Serge Aurier a few choice names in my time, but “An impressive likeness to the Kyle Walker of 2016” has not been amongst them. Similarly, Danny Rose is now an angry shadow of the marauding soul who set the tone in those halcyon days.

So after the break Son moved to the right, to provide an extra body linking defence to attack, and both the changed shape and the particular individual improved things ten-fold. Sonny tore around like a puppy reunited with its owner, and others around him seemed to perk up, as if struck by the thought that his high-octane approach to life might bring about a change in fortunes.

Moreover, with Son installed on the right, where once midfield and attack had resembled strangers harbouring deep, mutual suspicions, in the second half there appeared to be consensus amongst all that collaboration would bring about a goal.

4. VAR Luck

Ultimately we were good value for the draw, having bossed possession and had the decency to show some urgency in the second half. That said, Lady Luck gave us a few admiring glances along the way, for Dele’s goal could quite reasonably have been ruled out.

I’m pretty sure that a few weeks ago Man City had a late winner against us disallowed for use of the upper arm in the build-up, so to say I was perplexed that Dele’s shoulder-nudge was waved on is to understate things.

More to the point, my best mate Jan rather forget the laws of the game in the first half, when he slid in and aimed one or two little kicks at his man. It’s not allowed, Jan! Except that in this instance, it was. The inconsistency of the thing is most puzzling, but there we go and here we are.

AANP’s book is available online – with another in the offing – and you can follow an occasional toot on Twitter

Spurs 2-1 Southampton: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. We Need to Talk About Serge

The little voices in Serge Aurier’s head seem only to whisper “Hero” or “Villain”, with little regard for the countless possibilities that lie between.

The old bean’s assets undoubtedly lie in the attacking third, with the positioning he adopts as a wide man complimented by a capacity to deliver the occasional whipped cross.

However, this modest return in the Credit column is rather blown out of the water by the numerous ills that clog up the Debit column. Since his arrival at the club he has racked up a number of utterly mindless red cards and penalty concessions, all of which are suggestive of a mass walkout by the brain cells and general dereliction of duty.

Yesterday Aurier offered precious little of value before chipping in with his usual moments of idiocy.

The first yellow card was needless in the extreme. One understands the concept of self-sacrificial yellow cards – hauling down an opposing chappie on halfway in order to stymie a counter-attack, that sort of sordid business. One does not condone such conduct, of course, but one follows the thought-process. Falling on one’s sword, and so on and so forth. Presumably in some cultures it can even have a certain nobility.

Aurier’s first yellow card however, against an opponent wandering away from goal and edging towards the side of the pitch, was rock-bottom on the list of Risks Worth Taking. It dealt with no threat, offered zero benefit to anyone and left the abysmal young fool with 65 minutes to spend tip-toeing across a tightrope.

As it happened he didn’t last 5 minutes. One might quibble – and several have – about the circumstances around the second booking, but when an old bean knows that his every move is going to be under the scrutiny of a referee with a touch of the Dolph Lundgren about him, that bean, if he has a jot of sense, reverts to his best behaviour and conducts himself impeccably.

Aurier, the poster-boy of recklessness, did enough to give Dolph a decision to make, and we – three days before facing Bayern Munich – were left to play an hour with ten men.

Credit to Sissoko, for doing a pretty flawless job of things as hastily-identified reserve right-back, but in general it is becoming something of a cursed position, and Aurier will have to do a heck of a job to win back some of that rapidly-draining goodwill.

2. We Need to Talk About Hugo

Given the circumstances surrounding the season – want-away players, thrown away leads – and the circumstances of the game, having just lost a man, one would think that the captain would have been precisely the chap to inject a modicum of calmness into proceedings.

Monsieur Lloris however, picked this of all moments to treat us to his best Benny Hill impression, and it is to the immense credit of all concerned that we managed afterward to regain the lead and then cling on to it.

Lloris’ talents (far more than Aurier’s) are pretty visible and regularly on display. His two second half saves – and in particular the instinctive one from the header – served as neat reminders of the chap’s quality when it comes to the basics of stopping the round thing from entering the rectangle.

Alas, it is impossible to ignore the bedlam that ensues every time the chap has the ball at his feet. Ever since Pep Guardiola dared every other manager in the Top Six to play out from the back, all have been too scared to refuse, with the result that even those goalkeepers who can’t pass six yards with tripping over their own feet are now expected to be modern-day Beckenbauers in their distribution.

Lloris’ short passing tends as often as not to lack sense, guile or even basic accuracy; one can see the hearts of Toby and Jan visibly sinking as the moment approaches, while Davinson Sanchez, when involved, looks every inch the man who wants to run off the pitch and disappear into obscurity; and opposition strikers, understandably enough, lick their lips and come charging into our area like kids towards the tree on Christmas morning.

Yesterday’s mistake was not the first – Lloris has done the same thing in a World Cup Final for heaven’s sake, and not learnt his lesson – but aside from whether or not such absurdity results in a goal conceded, it transmits panic throughout the defence and midfield, and invites pressure.

One understands that if operated well it can be devastatingly effective in bypassing an opposition’s press and creating counter-attack opportunities from halfway – but how often do we operate it well when Lloris is the string-puller-in-chief?

3. Cracking Second Goal

Mercifully, those further up the pitch are a darned sight better with ball at feet, and there will be few better examples of this than our second goal.

There was much to admire about it – but in the first place it was interesting to note that the genesis of the whole thing was a non-nonsense hoick up the pitch by Moussa Sissoko, a chap who could probably teach Lloris a thing or two about the art of Not Dallying Around, and in his native tongue, for added attraction.

Thereafter however, one just sat back and purred at the general magnificence that shone forth. Kane’s strength and cushioned header into Son was terrific. Son’s feet were quick, and having played in Eriksen he did not pause to admire his own handiwork but set off at a lick to avail himself further, in the process leaving behind his marker.

Eriksen similarly played an intelligent pass and then scuttled off to receive a return ball, leaving behind his own marker, and then it was up to Kane – whose first touch was actually not of the exquisite quality one has come to expect.

This mattered little however, because once in the area Kane’s eyes inevitably light up, and he inevitably finds a way. The speed of the whole thing was a delight, it reflected the quality of those involved, their awareness and technique. All that was left was for nobody else in lilywhite to decide to liven things up by gifting some advantage back to our visitors.

4. Kane’s All-Round Game

I have already gone a little misty-eyed at Kane’s involvement in the build-up for the second goal, and it served as a textbook example of how much the chap contributes all over the pitch, not just in delivering the coup de grâce.

An isolated incident it most certainly was not. In fact, look back at the early stages of our first goal and one will note that the impetus is initially injected by Kane picking the ball up deep, muscling various others out of the way and giving a sensible pass.

The chap is a veritable all-rounder, with numerous strings to his bow and all of them pretty dashed impressive.

As if to emphasise the point he also had a shot from the halfway line that missed the mark by only a foot or so.

5. Ndombele Beginning to Show Flashes

In general, our lot made an excellent fist of trying circumstances yesterday. Winks was close to immaculate; Eriksen seemed oddly buoyed by the challenge of having to wear a defensive hat; Lamela was the right substitute at the right moment.

In truth, in the second half Ndombele wandered around with the look of a man wondering what he had signed up for, and his wearying limbs were rested before the final toot. However, in the first half he showed glimpses of the chap about whom we all became so giddy with excitement in the summer.

On several occasions he received the ball on the half-turn, wriggled away from one or two challenges and either dabbed the ball to a chum or drew a foul. It was the sort of stuff that just hinted at the ghost of Mousa Dembele, that ability to turn back-foot into front-foot in the blink of an eye.

Still a work in progress no doubt, but the omens are positive. His penchant for popping in the opposition area to thwack one into the net is also something of a bonus.

AANP’s book is available online – with another in the offing – and you can follow an occasional toot on Twitter

Leicester 2-1 Spurs: Six Tottenham Talking Points

1. Decent Showing From Lamela

I would be deceiving my public were I to describe the first hour or so as a barrel of laughs, but while we led there was at least a certain gaiety in the N17 air, suggestive of good times that, if not exactly rolling, were limbering up for a prime-time slot.

Where in midweek we began sluggishly and showed little inclination to pep up at any point, here we began with fire in belly, snap in challenge and sharpness in passing. And much of this came from the frame of one E. Lamela Esq.

In common with just about every other attacking sort we have gathered over the years, Lamela only really looks the part when given a run of at least half a dozen consecutive starts, and at times today he began to tick, in that attacking midfield role.

He picked up threatening positions, weighted some delicious threaded passes and corrected a particularly grating flaw that he seems to have demonstrated ever since emerging from the womb, namely that of hanging on to the ball far too long. Not a bit of here – if a pass were on he dashed well effected it, and the whole machinery whirred away more smoothly as a result.

It was fitting that his pass (weighted, again, to perfection) helped set in motion our goal, albeit in these days of assists and stats his contribution will likely be overlooked.

In general, for the first half certainly, he did most of the things one would hope a talented attacking midfield string-puller would do – and I don’t mind admitting that I wondered if Messrs Eriksen and Alli were taking notes at just how central to things Lamela was making himself.

2. Another Busy One From Winks

If Lamela were busy rattling off most of the creative lines, as ever the harder graft was being done by Winks just a little further south.

Regular drinkers at the AANP well will be aware that I consider him a slightly wasted figure against teams who settle in for 90 minutes of defending; but a Leicester side with attacking intent were the perfect platform for him to peddle his wares both as indefatigable Scurrier-in-Chief, nipping hither and yon in search of ankles at which to snap, as well as an intelligent distributor of possession, finding space and occasionally spraying the ball wide if the planets seemed to align suitably.

His attitude, in common with Lamela’s, helped ensure that while it was hardly one-way traffic, our lot did at least approach the whole affair with an aggression that has often been absent from out play.

3. Sissoko (Including That Tackle)

Monsieur Sissoko has not yet been quite the revelation this season that he was last, and he seemed to attract some mixed reviews from the galleries on Saturday, but I generally thought that he caught the gist of things from Winks and Lamela, and seemed to enjoy the rough-and-tumble nature of events.

This was not flawless stuff, mind – at 0-1 Sissoko’s sloppy concession of possession allowed Vardy in for a near miss (the one that Gazza saved and Rose cleared), and although it came to naught it was precisely the sort of sloppy nonsense of which we have been far too guilty in recent weeks, in allowing leads to slip.

All told, however, I was pretty happy to keep my subscription to the Sissoko Fan Club rolling in while he was on the pitch.

In particular, the full-blooded challenge that earned him a yellow card in the first half was met with a roar of hearty approval from AANP Towers. That he ended up sliding in with both feet was a cause for concern, until I realised that he did so because he lost his footing. The challenge itself was fabulous, and fairly obviously won the ball. Sending an opponent flying into the air as part of the follow-through seemed a pretty pleasant offshoot of the whole thing. (One imagines Danny Rose looked on with approval.)

Naturally the authorities took a dim view of this, seemingly because the crowd instructed as much (they strangely refrained from baying for red when Jonny Evans did the same to Kane twenty minutes later), but I would much rather see our lot go flying in full-blooded than ducking out of the way of such things.

4. Aurier and The Ongoing Right-Back Problem

Whichever egg it was who first piped up with the notion that absence makes the heart grow fonder was a smart old sort, no doubt about it, because there ought really to be a petition to have it become an interim motto for the club.

Despite his repeated howlers over the course of 2018/19, the sale of Kieran Trippier has turned him into something of a yearned-for ex-girlfriend amongst right-backs, being a chap who can – gasp – deliver a cross amongst other things. Then in midweek, as Sanchez laboured to fairly impotent effect in Greece, the AANP heart yowled longingly for Aurier.

And now after this latest performance, I’m rather inclined to shove Aurier aside and enquire as to the health of Juan Foyth (I’m not at the KWP stage just yet).

Aurier, as a chum pointed out, did a good job positionally, and was full of willing. By at least carting himself up the pitch and into crossing positions level with the Leicester area, he made the formation work, in an attacking sense, and Davinson Sanchez was no doubt taking copious notes.

Alas, his crossing missed many more times than it hit. Dashed unlikely to have his goal ruled out, mind, but by and large the end-product did not really match the expectation.

Moreover, he seemed to wander off into the wrong postcode for the Leicester winner, which was pretty inexcusable stuff for a right-back. If he is a work in progress it will need one heck of a project management team.

5. The VAR Disallowed Goal (Ours, Not Theirs)

A minor note on this, primarily because it is so galling, dash it all.

No complaints with the decision itself, if you get my drift – offside by a hair’s breadth is still offside – but to be honest I struggle to understand how it was decided that he was indeed a hair’s breadth the wrong side of the law.

Skynet appears to have selected part of Son’s armpit and Evan’s right knee as their body parts of choice, which I suppose in one sense is fair enough – after all, why not? – but in another sense does make one scratch the chin and murmur “Rummy stuff, what?”

(The “clear and obvious error” part of VAR appears to have been made pretty unwelcome in this particular saloon – but that I can understand, for as mentioned, offside is offside, whether by millimetres or miles.)

So to be clear – while confused about which body parts are selected and why, this is more of a rant of self-pity about being denied a goal by a sliver, rather than a complaint against VAR or the decision reached.

6. Another Lead Squandered

Of far more concern is the fact that our heroes have done it again.

For all our attacking threat – and this was an improvement of sorts on recent weeks, for we did create decent chances in different ways – we always looked vulnerable defensively. One can analyse the individual errors from this or previous games that have led to goals, but the general patterns of play in these games in which we’ve led and conceded twice will not necessarily highlight any single, recurring tactical error.

I noted an article earlier this week (about Christian Eriksen specifically, but the point seems applicable to our mob more widely) which noted a lack of a “slightly sociopathic” desire not to lose, not to make the same mistakes and so on and so forth. While it is perhaps not the sort of comment I would drop in certain company around the dining table, this certainly resonated as a general team trait.

Which is not to doubt that our heroes want to win, but the penny does not ever seem to drop that in order to do so that they have to bust every inch of gut, and be ruthlessly critical of their own standards. Misplaced passes, poor control and wandering out of position are all mistakes that seem to be made too readily, and with an accompanying air that it’s disappointing but life will go on.

There is enough talent floating around the squad, but for as long as I can recall we’ve lacked that “slightly sociopathic” ruthlessness – and it is little surprise that we keep squandering leads.

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Spurs 3-1 Villa: Six Tottenham Talking Points

1. Old Habits

As the minutes worryingly ticked by yesterday, the phrase that sprung to mind was the old French gag, “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose”, which as I understand essentially translates as “It may be a new season, new stadium and we even have new signings dash it, but this nonsense on the pitch is the same as before, what?”

For this was a script that had been rolled out seven or eight times last season, no doubt about it. Oodles of possession, lack of final-third spark, a well-drilled defensive unit from the opposition and concession of a goal faintly ridiculous in its simplicity – all returned like old friends, picking up where they’d left off.

Mercifully, another trait that can be added to the list is the fact that our heroes have developed quite the knack for turning around a deficit pretty late in the day. Whereas once to be trailing as the clock ticked to 80 or so meant a pretty prolonged agony followed by a grumpy mooch home, now players and fans alike exchange knowing nods as if to say “This is comeback territory.”

So not quite the serene start one might have envisaged, but glass-half-full sorts might point out that we’ll be all the better for having navigated the odd bump in the road, and the important thing was probably not to have fallen 3 points behind the usual suspects before the first weekend of the season is out.

2. My Best Mate Jan

Starting at the start, I don’t mind admitting there was a pretty dubious eyebrow raised when Our Glorious Leader’s latest crazy notion was revealed to be the omission from the squad altogether of AANP’s best mate, Jan Vertonghen.

The official party line, that it’s impossible to pick everyone at once, might, I suppose, have an inkling of truth to it – but the whole turn of events leaves one with a rather hollow feeling in the stomach. Given the way of things in recent years, the mind inevitably wanders back to those fallings-out of senior players with Poch, the likes of Toby and Danny Rose, who having had the temerity to blab disapprovingly of life at the Lane were shoved off to the naughty step for the best part of six months and left to think about what they’d done.

With the European transfer window still alive and kicking, and only one year left on Vertonghen’s contract, I don’t mind admitting that I fear the worst.

It’s all quite the surprise, mind. The chap’s own interviews had generally suggested he was as happy as a pig in its own muck, and the rumours emanating from the camp had indicated that he and Kane, along with Lloris, were members of a well-trusted core of senior bods. Who knows where this is going?

3. First Half Struggles – Winks, Lamela etc

As for the game itself, I was actually pretty pleased with the initial joustings. Lucas Moura set a good tone straight from kick-off by dispossessing some poor sap and blasting one goalwards, albeit immediately afterwards undoing the good work by missing a pretty straightforward header, but in general the early omens were promising enough. Passes were fairly slick and there was a good energy amongst the players.

Alas it quickly went squiffy. Traffic through the centre became pretty congested.
While Winks was neat and energetic and efficient, his passing tends to keep possession rather than rip the spine out of the opposition à la Modric or an on-song Eriksen. Winks scavenged, and darted, and did nothing wrong, but ultimately tended to feed the man six yards away, or at best feed the full-backs out wide.

Lamela did what Lamela does, and dwelt on the ball far too long before releasing it, generally giving the air of a man making a bit of a mess of a his big opportunity (albeit he redeemed himself at the death by winning back possession for our crucial second).

Danny Rose had a fair amount of joy on the left, causing some gratifying moments of alarm in the Villa box every time he curled in a cross, and although his attacking play was as effective as his defending was careless, he looked arguably our most threatening option. Not that there was much competition on that front.

4. Kyle Walker-Peter’s: Not One of Nature’s Crossers

Given the threat posed by Rose’s crossing from the left, I found quickly found myself yearning for a Trippier, or Aurier on the right, which I suppose is an indication of just how frustrating things were becoming.

For young Kyle Walker-Peters had plenty of possession out on the right in the first half, and did nothing particularly wrong – but given the number of times he received the thing, I could not help lamenting that it would not have killed the chap to swing in a cross or two.

Instead he dithered, and fretted, and scurried, and generally ended up trying to take on his man –to his credit, usually winning a corner – or laid the ball back to a handily-placed chum. Nothing wrong with that, as it retained possession, but countless opportunities were missed to swing in an early cross and let bedlam ensue. You can lay a sizeable wager on any of Walker, Trippier or Aurier having tried as much.

Various Spurs-supporting chums opined at half-time that KWP was arguably the pick of our mob; I firmly marked him down in the Debit rather than Credit column. Considering how much of our play went through him in the first 45, and the threat posed by Rose’s crossing on the other flank, I thought he was repeatedly missing a fairly obvious trick. In fact, by half-time I was dishing a strong selection of curses in his direction.

Whether by accident or design, the plug was pulled on KWP as an attacking force (I use the term loosely) in the second half. He sat deeper and focused on mopping up defensively – a job he did quite adequately, to his credit – and more senior sorts like Lucas and Sissoko took on the mantle of patrolling the right flank. I suppose this is what life after Trippier wil look like, so we had all better get used to it, but it seems a limitation to KWP’s game.

5. Early Ndombele Observations

An odd sort of start from our much-heralded newbie. In the first half one rather felt for the young bean, for there was a general frustration amongst those around him, as well as a solid couple of blocks of Villa players in front of him, and I got the impression that he was wondering if this were really such a smart career move.

He certainly tried his heart out – perhaps a little too hard at times – and at other times appeared a little off-pace and puffed of cheek. The second coming of Dembele he did not appear to be, for there were few signs of him picking up the ball and breezing past opponents.

Mercifully, his goal provided a pretty handy adrenaline shot. (Am I right in thinking that Dembele also scored on his home debut?) A well-taken strike it was too, for I can speak with some authority when I suggest that it is pretty easy when lining up those shots, with the ball rolling back towards you, to lean back and bloot them into orbit.

Thereafter, confidence coursed through his veins like nobody’s business, and a whole tranche of pretty unnecessary tricks and flicks were unleashed. The chap started to do his best Moussa Sissoko impression, surging forward with the ball, and the wonderful prospect of an unstoppable Ndombele-Sissoko double-act hove briefly into view.

6. Eriksen On Song

The Great Eriksen Debate has proved pretty divisive stuff, and there was no letting up yesterday.

No real doubt about it, the chap’s introduction made a difference yesterday. Where previously there had been a heck of a lot of scratching of heads and shrugging of shoulders and passing of buck, once Eriksen had toddled on everyone basically just gave him the ball and left him to it.

And his outputs were pretty impressive. He picked a handful of clever passes, cunningly threading them in between defenders and into space for chums to run onto, rather than simply to feet, which had proved largely beyond his teammates for the preceding hour.

It was in general a pretty good advert for the young fish’s wares, and goodness knows his agent must have rubbed his hands in glee.

As one of those who has often chided the man, I’m happy to hold up my hands and applaud him for his efforts yesterday. And if he shows that same eagerness to demand the ball and look to create opportunities on a weekly basis I’ll probably plant myself far more firmly in the Pro Eriksen camp.

However, if you pardon my tuppence worth, I remain a tad wary, as I feel like I have seen plenty of games like yesterday’s in which we have needed inspiration but Eriksen has sat back and let proceedings pass him by. Yesterday, for the 15 or minutes in which he played, everything went through him, and this should be the case more regularly, rather than having 89 quiet minutes and one moment of magic. I would prefer we keep him than sell him, but would like to see yesterday’s performance become his norm. Admittedly I would also like us to win the league and revert back to blue socks, but such things occasionally need to be said.

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5 Thoughts on the Trippier Transfer

The headline news from the last week or two is that Kieran Trippier has biffed off, to Madrid of all places.

1. A Tad Leftfield, What?

If you were casually to have remarked over the early-morning exchanges that this move was by-the-numbers, utterly normal and thoroughly in keeping with the general way of things, I suspect I would have waggled a particularly suspicious eyebrow and suggest you lay off the sauce for a while.

Trippier to Atletico Madrid was about as fantastical a plot-swerve as they come. It reminds me of those card games played by my nieces, in which cards are picked at random with the result that a clown’s body is matched with a lion’s head and a ballerina’s feet.

2. The Rationale

That said, it makes a lot of sense for the young bean himself. Twelve months ago his stock could not have soared any higher if it had been packaged up in a rocket and sent to the stars, for he was one of the stand-out performers in the World Cup, topping it all off with that fabulous semi-final free-kick.

However, Trippier as a wing-back with the safety net of three central defensive chums bringing up the rear is one thing; Trippier as a right-back within a back-four, as we rather painfully discovered, is a slightly different kettle of fish, and to say that there were grumblings of discontent amongst the masses at his performances in season 18/19 is rather to understate matters.

Put frankly, the chap’s defensive work left a heck of a lot to be desired, with all manner of high-profile and costly defensive aberrations littering the highlights reel.

So from his point of view, the opportunity to pack his wash-bag and apply some fresh sheen to his reputation elsewhere made some sense, particularly abroad, where they presumably still hang more to the free-kick against Croatia than the attempted nutmeg in his own area against Wolves.

3. Trippier’s Comments

On hearing that Trippier had dropped a few racy comments about his former paymasters, in one of his very first interviews in Spanish colours, I positively raced to the newswires to experience for myself what I presumed was some violent attack emanating from his mouth.

However, anyone expecting him to denounce Pochettino as a fraud, claim that squad morale was at an all-time low and disturb Toby’s immaculate hair for good measure was left pretty disappointed. The chap said that there were a few problems behind the scenes, which is the sort of mildly disgruntled fare one would expect of anyone has ever asked or been asked to leave a job.

Some lilywhite fans appear to be frothing at the mouth and perfecting their Trippier effigies at this, but at AANP Towers the news, in common with most of Trippier’s contributions over the last 12 months, has been granted with a shrug.

Still, one wishes him well and so on and so forth.

4. Not Levy’s Finest Moment

The transfer fee does strike something of a nerve though. In these ludicrous times, in which the lad on the Powerleague pitch next to me is probably worth £2m, and Harry Maguire is supposedly fetching north of £80m, a fee of around £20-25m for Trippier strikes me as one of Daniel Levy’s more slipshod pieces of financial brinksmanship.

5. Next Cabs On The Right-Back Rank

Moreover, our right-back is dead so long live our right-back, and in this spirit I give the chin a pensive stroke as I weigh up the ins and outs of our policy in this area for next season.

While Aurier showed some signs of improvement, he has put some solid legwork into establishing his status as one heck of a liability since joining, and juries across the land will require some mightily conclusive evidence to be convinced of the lad’s reliability.

The back-up option of Kyle Walker-Peters bounds around with all of the joys of spring, but his effervescence has done little to paper over the cracks in his defending. The post-it note slapped across his sturdy frame is once again scrawled with the words “One for the future”, but opportunity will presumably present itself more regularly this season.

Another alternative is Juan Foyth, whose love for a forward gambol works in his favour, and who has featured there for Argentina in the Copa America no less, but who nevertheless is something of a square-peg for the role, and is hardly the most accomplished at centre-back himself.

Our Glorious Leader appears to think that there are enough options within the squad (and one or two rather mischievous chums have even suggested that Sissoko might emerge as the front-runner), so I await further developments with interest.

Spurs 0-2 Liverpool: Five Tottenham Talking Points

Well this was a most peculiar anti-climax. Full of effort and yet somehow devoid of urgency, and with excitement and quality levels similarly low on the barometer, the whole thing resembled seeing a balloon being immediately deflated and then simply left lying unattended for another 89 minutes.

Rather than lumber tragically through the seven stages of grief, or find some perceived injustice and rage at it, the sentiment at AANP Towers is therefore one of curious frustration. Given that Liverpool themselves were oddly underwhelming, this ought probably to be listed as a Missed Opportunity, alongside the Leicester season – and yet somehow, the mood is one of philosophical acceptance.

Probably best just to toddle over to the corpse and begin dissecting.

1. The Penalty Decision

Not all will agree – and judging by the high-pitched apoplexy emanating from his larynx, Glenn Hoddle most certainly did not – but I must confess I had little problem with the penalty decision itself.

To clarify, I did not perform any sort of jig of delight – in fact those around me needed to deliver a rigorous prod between the ribs to check that the blood was still flowing, such was the horror-stricken, frozen chill with which I reacted – but I did follow the logic of the sturdy fellow making the call. Although the ball bounced off chest first, it did then receive an inadvertent stroke from the incoming arm of Sissoko.

Worse crimes have undoubtedly been perpetuated within the vicinity of the 18-yard rectangle during the history of the game, but I understood why, in that situation, a jury might convict.

Just a dashed shame – if quintessentially, absurdly Tottenham – that it happened within thirty seconds of the start of the biggest game in our history.

2. Best Laid Plans vs First-Minute Penalty

More of a concern was the impact of that early farce upon the best-laid plans of Our Glorious Leader. According to the newswires, Pochettino’s three-week preparations had included inviting the players to plant their feet on hot coals (a strategy that, if you ask me, carries an inherent flaw, given that these chaps’ feet are the most important dashed parts of them), breaking arrows with their necks and all manner of other eyebrow-raising sorcery. Frankly it struck me that he might have had a little too much preparation time on his hands.

Alas, the one circumstance for which he presumably had not prepared was the concession of a penalty in the opening minute. One sympathises, for why would he?

And in fact, our lot reacted to this decidedly unseemly new set of circumstances with admirable stiffening of the upper lip and some neat and tidy interplay around halfway.

The problem with the early goal was not so much its effect upon our heroes as its effect upon Liverpool. It meant that for the remaining 89 minutes they did not need to take any sort of risk, or show any sort of forward intent that would allow even a whiff of an opening behind them. They were content to strangle the life out of us, and pretty much did just that.

3. The Kane Selection

Our Glorious Leader had made the reasonable point that hindsight would tell whether his team selection would go down as masterstroke or clanger, so naturally enough the knives are out in some quarters. All of which places me in a terrifically delicate spot, as Poch, having presumably pored over these very pages in recent days, rather scarily opted for the precise team and formation for which I had been marching around town campaigning in the past week or two.

Kane undoubtedly had fairly minimal effect upon proceedings, finally threatening around the peripheries in the final twenty or so, without ever eking out – or having eked for him – that half a yard that would have allowed him a decent pot at goal.

However, at the risk of incurring the wrath of the better half of North London, I do not think our general bluntness was much to do with him, for the chap was barely given a touch of the ball by his chums in the opening hour or so.

He might have been in the form of his life and it would not have mattered, because our build-up play, particularly in the first half, was thoroughly bogged down by the time we hit the final third (almost as if the players were sinking beneath the weight of tactical instruction, which rather makes one wonder).

Even in hindsight I am still not particularly convinced that starting Lucas instead would necessarily have been the solution, for sniper-quality though his finishing was against Ajax, his involvement in build-up play was nothing about which to ring the church bells, and when he was eventually introduced last night his impact was neither here nor there.

The problem struck me as not so much to do with Kane’s fitness or the absence of Lucas, as the dearth of creativity and service from the ranks behind them.

4. Eriksen, The Selected Scapegoat

At such times as these I feel legally obliged to identify a scapegoat.

With Liverpool content to allow us the ball and take their chances as a defensive unit, plenty of onus was placed upon the assorted size nines in our midfield. We found ourselves in desperate need of some wit and ingenuity, someone who could make use of ample possession in midfield, and boast both the vision to pick a defence-splitting pass and the technique also to deliver it.

In short we needed Christian Eriksen.

The opportunity could not have been better made for him if it had taken him aside beforehand and measured him for size. This was the precise scenario that Mother Nature had had in mind when she fashioned him all those years ago, and the stage was that for which one would expect the true greats of the game to don their capes and leap into action.

But cometh the hour, Eriksen had little to offer that dropped the jaw and made the heart skip a beat or two.

It’s a source of some pretty ripe debate in lilywhite circles. The chap’s ability is not in question – he produces some silky stuff of which most teammates simply aren’t capable. The issue here at AANP Towers is that he is something of a Match of the Day player: his best bits make the highlights reel, and come 10.30pm on a Saturday night he can look pretty spectacular. But roll up and watch the whole 90 minutes, and too often he does too little to effect things, much less boss an entire match. Last night was a case in point.

By contrast, Winks and Sissoko – neither of whom anyone of sound mind and teetotal disposition would ever suggest were better players than Eriksen – did more at least to attempt to inject a little vim and energy into our midfield play.

5: Clinical Finishing (And Lack Thereof)

Whatever the virtues or otherwise of Eriksen’s performance, it seemed that, like me, the players were labouring under the misapprehension that clear-cut chances would simply materialise automatically, because this was the Champions League 2019 and frankly that’s what has tended to happen. This time however, we were a little too patient and passive for our own good.

By around the 70-minute mark the memo to get heads down and dig out a goal had evidently reached all in lilywhite, and there was an urgency to our play in the final third. The Liverpool goalkeeper was even having to get his gloves dirty, as our heroes stumbled upon the novel idea of trying an occasional, polite shot at goal.

Alas and alack and woe upon woe, we did not actually create one decent chance throughout the whole desperate affair. Instead, we needed to be at our clinical best to take advantage of whatever scraps and glimmers of opportunities came our way.

In short, we needed to produce the sort of clinical finish from one of those half-chances that Divock Origi did at the other end, at the death, summoning the ghost of Lineker in the Italia ’90 Semi-Final to turn a sniff of a chance into a goal.

But where Origi caught his shot as sweetly as a front-foot cover drive at Lord’s, Sonny and Lucas did not quite make the clean connection that makes the heart skip a beat and young ladies swoon; and Dele’s chipped effort was rather cruelly made to look a heck of a lot closer to hitting the top corner than it actually did, by that most wretched and evil prankster, the Deceptive Camera Angle.

And that was that. The whole Champions League campaign has been, until this point absolutely riotous fun, so warm applause and stiff drinks are deserved all round. Just a shame that the finale was such an oddly damp squib, but such is life I suppose.

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CL Final Preview: 5 Things Tottenham Must Do To Win

1. Kane at His Sharpest

Not to point too fine a point on it, but Kane’s contribution to proceedings will be constitute pretty critical stuff.

Casting minds all the way back to the start of the season, and in that post-World Cup fug much of the chatter revolved around the fact that the chap looked every inch a man in desperate need of a good lie-down. His touch was heavy, his movement was laboured. He protested otherwise, and the goals generally continued to flow, but for whatever reason we certainly were not witnessing Peak Kane.

In the here and now, Kane is once again insisting that he is in fine fettle, and I’m inclined to believe that the ankle is now fully healed. The concern remains however, that his match sharpness – by which I mean that aforementioned touch and movement – is several marks off the ideal.

While we have stumbled our way through previous rounds using patched-together teams, and often sans Kane, this match of matches really requires our star player to be at the peak of his powers.

The question of whether he should start or come off the bench continues to linger (the AANP tuppence-worth is to start with him), but starting also presents a problem, because sharp or not, he presumably will struggle to last 90 minutes, and were he to start and the game to drag into extra-time, one suspects he will toddle off for a warm coat and isotonic snifter at some point.

Kane at his best, however, would be a massive asset to our heroes, and cause Liverpool all sorts of problems, from all sorts of angles. Fingers firmly crossed.

2. Sense Over Sentiment in Team Selection

Following his Amsterdam heroics, young Lucas is quite rightly being lauded everywhere he goes, and one would hope the chap will never have to buy his own drink ever again.

However, many are calling for his inclusion in the starting line-up for the Final, on the basis of an argument that can essentially be distilled down to “It would be harsh not to”. Such discourse is greeted with a narrowing of the eyes at AANP Towers, and a sniff that could be considered haughty. This is a Champions League Final, not a mid-summer testimonial or a Sunday afternoon 1950s romance on Channel 4.

There should be no room for sentiment in this one, we absolutely need to pick the team that will win on the day – and if that means shunting Lucas into the attack then so be it, but I fall pretty firmly into the camp that thinks that Kane and Son ought to be the front pairing.

The alternative suggestion is cramming all three of Kane, Son and Lucas into attack – which would presumably mean a midfield of Dele, Sissoko and Eriksen. This, I fancy, would be madness of the highest degree. Away to Man City, and at home to Ajax, Eriksen and Dele confirmed what was already universally known, that they pretty much offer cosmetic value only when doing off-the-ball defensive work. Not their faults of course, as nature created them to attack. Set up with that 4-3-3 and I fear Liverpool will be over the hills and out of sight before we know what has hit us.

Sense, rather than sentiment, would appear to dictate that we use a midfield 4, with one of Winks, Dier or Wanyama in amongst the rest, tasked with rolling up sleeves and mucking in.

3. A Plan to Nullify Their Full-Backs

We have played Liverpool twice this season, receiving something of a spanking at home, albeit by only one goal, which rather flattered us, and losing by one own goal away from home, which rather flattered them.

Prominent in both encounters, particularly during those chunks during which Liverpool were in the ascendancy, were the red full-backs. When we played at Wembley, our own full-backs were in full kamikaze mode, and charged up the pitch, leaving Robertson and TAA plenty of room to set up camp and make merry. At Anfield, our lot went to the other extreme, and began in an ultra-conservative back five.

The solution, one imagines, lies somewhere in between. A back-four, perhaps, with both Rose and Trippier afforded a degree of protection from those in front? The second half at Anfield might prove a useful template, as we edged on top on that occasion, and were dashed unlucky to lose.

Whatever the solution, this is one of the notable problems over which Our Glorious Leader and his Brains Trust will need to chew and ruminate, preferably long into the night and within clouds of cigar smoke.

4. No Ludicrous Mistakes

Conceding a goal is always galling, but when it comes about because the other lot whir into hyperspace and slice us open with a thousand cuts – as in the style of Ajax in the first leg, for example – at least there are few regrets or recriminations. One might point a half-hearted finger at the left-back who may have moved a step to the side in the build-up, but essentially it is blameless stuff, and all involved are best off simply stiffening the upper lip and contemplating the riposte.

What is utterly infuriating is conceding a goal out of nowhere and under no pressure, as a complete gift to the opposition. Disturbingly, our heroes have made something of a habit of this over the course of the season, and it goes without saying that such nonsense makes the job in hand massively more taxing.

Trippier’s own goal; Lloris’ palm against Liverpool; Foyth’s own-area dallying; Trippier’s own-area attempted nutmegs; Lloris’ rushes of blood to the head and rushes of feet from his goal – the list is worryingly long. To say nothing of free headers at set-pieces.

Playing Liverpool will be hard enough, and the drill ought to be to force them to work dashed hard for every chance. On this of all occasions we need to cut out the utterly absurd, unforced errors.

5. No More Comebacks

No doubt about it, our heroes have turned the sensational comeback into something of an art-form during this Champions League campaign.

After the three-games-one-point ‘Arry Redknapp tribute at the start of the group phase, we went into the final 10 minutes of each of our fourth, fifth and sixth games needing at least one goal to avoid elimination – and duly delivered each time. Against City we again needed a late-ish goal (and an even later VAR call), and then there was the madness of Amsterdam. On top of which, we seem to have imprinted into the gameplan the slightly curious tactic of conceding within the opening 5 minutes.

All thrilling stuff and so on and so forth, but this insanity really must end, for the good of all concerned. The constitution simply cannot take it, for a start – and heaven knows what the nerves will be like during a Champions League Final – but more pertinently we just cannot repeatedly rely upon comebacks. A two-goal half-time deficit will not always be overturned, and I certainly wouldn’t fancy our chances of doing so against this lot.

Wouldn’t it be nice, just for once, to canter into a lead, and then hold onto it?

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CL Final Preview: 6 Players Who Took Tottenham To The Final

1. Hugo Lloris

Heaven knows I’ve been at the front of the queue when it’s come to sticking the knife into our skipper – and giving it a vigorous twist for good measure too – because the absurd, unforced errors have come thick and fast in the last season or two. However, when push met shove in the business end of this season’s Champions League, Lloris thrust out limbs like nobody’s business.

The Dortmund away leg springs to mind, a game into which we took a three-goal lead but looked for all the money in the world like we wouldn’t make it to half-time without being pegged back.

Dortmund brought their A-game, slicing us apart with the sort of blurry whizz of motion that Ajax were to replicate in the semi-final. Time and again they skipped past each of our massed ranks until finding themselves staring into the whites of Lloris’ eyes; but time and again our captain did the necessary, no matter how unlikely the laws of physics suggested this would be. Re-watch the highlights of that first half in particular, and one needs to dust off the abacus to rack up the precise number of point-blank saves made.

Fast-forward a couple of months, and within ten minutes of the quarter-final first leg at home to Man City, VAR had awarded a penalty against Danny Rose, and the customary uphill slog looked set to kick in.

Enter, yet again, Monsieur Lloris, to repel Aguero’s spot-kick and breathe fresh life into this unlikeliest of campaigns. Had Aguero scored, the away goals advantage would have gone up in smoke there and then, and more pertinently City might well have racked up a hatful.

2. Moussa Sissoko

AANP’s player of the season, Sissoko seems to have improved with every game, transforming before our goggling eyes from figure of fun to critical cog in the machinery. One moment that summed up this metamorphosis was his gallop forward in the closing stages at home to Inter.

By that stage of the campaign it was win or bust, thrice in a row. A sloppy start had left our heroes with one point from three games, and any thoughts of winning the whole dashed thing had been tied up in a sack, weighed down with bricks and dropped overboard. Needing a win to avoid elimination in each of Matchdays 4, 5 and 6, this seemed rather unlikely against Inter, until the final 10 minutes, when Sissoko took it upon himself to put his head down and charge into enemy territory.

One is reluctant to blame the Inter mob for backing off, for it would be a brave man to try to impede a Sissoko gathering a head of steam. The chap drove from Point A, around 10 yards inside his own half, to Point B well inside the Inter penalty area, with the sort of steely determination that one dares not interrupt, and with each step began imprinting himself into Tottenham folklore.

He found Dele, who swivelled and found Eriksen, and his finish kept our heads above water. Just.

Further approving nods to Sissoko for setting up Kane away to Dortmund, and filling in at auxiliary right-back away to Barcelona, after KWP was hooked and we went in desperate search of an equaliser.

And of course, his introduction against Ajax in the semi-final first leg did just about enough to wrest the game away from them.

3. Jan Vertonghen

One of several who made pretty vital, last-ditch stretches away to Dortmund, to keep our hosts at bay and our 3-0 lead in tact when it seemed that calamity might befall, my best mate’s true value was demonstrated in the first leg of that same tie.

Playing at left wing-back Vertonghen first went toe-to-toe with Jadon Sancho, by the skin of his teeth keeping the young pup contained in a first half in which we were decidedly second best.

In the second half, however, Vertonghen emerged as an irresistible creative force from left-back, flying down the flank with unsullied abandon, whipping in a series of crosses that sent the Dortmund central defence into a frightful tizz and capping things off with a striker’s finish to put us two goals ahead and take something of a knife to Dortmund’s spirits.

That Vertonghen-inspired win gave us enough breathing space to survive the second leg onslaught – and just like that, we were in the quarter-finals.

4. Harry Kane

An enforced absentee for various critical stages of the campaign, Kane still popped up with a number of pretty vital finishes hither and thither. Hardly a surprise, as 14 goals in 18 Champions League appearances does point to a chap who bounds around the place ticking boxes at this level like it’s going out of fashion, but it’s still rather easy to forget his contribution to this season’s effort.

Most notably this occurred at home to PSV in the group stage. Again, it was a game in which nothing less than victory would suffice – so obviously we went behind in the first minute.

And there we remained until the final 10, when Kane’s relentless focus on hitting the target paid off, albeit in slightly more nerve-jangly fashion than would have been ideal.

First a pot-shot in a crowded area found the bottom corner; and then in the final moments a header towards the right-hand corner took a hefty deflection of one PSV torso to send it towards the middle of the goal, and then for good measure detoured again, of another PSV limb, to trickle apologetically into the bottom left.

They all count – as Kane, more than most, will testify – and on we stumbled marched.

5. Fernando Llorente

Another of those chaps who puts the “fickle” into “AANP”, I can quite easily wile away a spare half hour by simply lambasting Fernando Llorente – and yet few have been more critical to what might be the most brilliant success in our history.

As aforementioned, when needing a win at home to PSV, we did it the Spurs way and entered the final 10 minutes a goal down. By this point Llorente had been unceremoniously deposited into the PSV area, and duly earned his keep. Give him a chance two yards in front of goal and the ball might end up anywhere in the solar system, but tell him to hold up the ball, hold off a central defender and lay the ball delicately into the path of Harry Kane, and he’s in business. He did just that, Kane scored and we went on to scrape a win.

Fast forward to the quarter-final away leg at Man City, and Llorente produced the sort of finish that only a man of his questionable finishing ability can produce. Closing his eyes and hoping to win a header from a waist-height cross, he did enough to bundle his way in front of his man, and use a questionable combination of hip and possibly-or-possibly-not wrist to force the ball in. And then celebrated like we fans were celebrating.

Fast forward even further, and with nothing left to lose in the semi-final second leg against Ajax, Llorente’s very presence, introduced at half-time, did enough to sow seeds amongst the Ajax defence. Daly Blind in particular spent most of that half casting a perturbed hand across a distinctly fevered brow, as Llorente simply bullied him.

Aside from any contributions to goals, this helped changed the pattern of play, and momentum of the game. And then, ultimately, his ungainly, angular poke of the ball, in the final minute of added time, was enough to give Dele a yard, and then Lucas Moura… [goosebumps]

6. Lucas Moura

Not just a man for a semi-final hat-trick, Lucas also scored in the dying minutes against Barcelona, in yet another of those group stage games in which we desperately needed a win and therefore conceded early.

Lucas charged in to slap the ball home from close range, and with a little help from PSV we went from one point after three games, to qualification for the knockouts.

And what a knockout it was shaping up to be in the semi-final. In truth, until he scored I was rather despairing of Lucas’ contribution. Frenetic and a little wasteful when on the gallop; unable to link with midfield when dropping deep with back to goal; and without a shot in anger in the whole first half, he seemed just another one of those waving forlornly as the game passed him by.

But then, by golly what an impact. The surge of pace to latch on to Dele’s touch for the first goal was worthy of an Olympic sprinter.

The footwork to dance around the Ajax 6-yard box before scoring the second was worthy of any head-down 9 year-old in the playground.

And then the winner, placed into the only available spot in the net, at the last possible moment before two Ajax defenders could and would have blocked it, and as the clock ticked from 94:59 to 95:00…

I’m not sure there will ever be a Tottenham Hotspur moment quite like it. The bedlam, the en masse Ajax faceplant, the repeated viewings and the full 24 hours it took to register the enormity. On top of which, it’s rather pleasing that the hero of the hour was one of the more unlikely sorts, as it does hammer home that the whole thing was quite the collective effort (which makes a mockery of a list of 6 individuals, but over that we quietly gloss). Heroes, predictable and otherwise, at every turn – one wonders if there is room for one more name to be heralded on Saturday…

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