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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.

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.

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.

Spurs 1-1 Man Utd: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. The Negative Mentality

Good heavens this ghastly dirge is too much to stomach. One understands that there’s a time and a place for the gung-ho “If you score four we’ll just biff up the pitch and score five” approach, but this new normal – of low possession, sitting deep and simply attempting to soak up pressure from first whistle to last – is laying it on a bit thick.

One presumes that once Bill Nick and Danny Blanchflower made it past the pearly gates they got stuck into the entertainment on offer and had a whale of a time, not bothering to check back over their shoulders to monitor goings-on at N17 – but if they did happen to glance back one can only imagine how unrecognisable this rot might appear to them.

“The game is about glory, it is about doing things in style and with a flourish, about going out and beating the other lot, not waiting for them to die of boredom.”

The aforementioned memo evidently did not make it to the Mourinho inbox. Instead we’re stuck with this dreadful imitation of Sven’s England, persisting with the ludicrous notion that football is a game best played by allowing the opposition to have the ball for as long as they please, of all absurd notions, providing that there are enough last-ditch limbs around to prevent them from scoring.

Any display of attacking intent was strictly an afterthought – and the longer the game wore on the more unlikely these became anyway, for even when we tried to pass our way forward rather than blasting it into orbit, we simply did not have enough troops stationed in attack, every man and his dog having been dragged back into the final third for defensive drills ad infinitum.

A point from yesterday’s game was certainly a good result, but if this is to be the go-to approach – and it is – frankly I would rather we had lost while playing with more ambition.

No doubt we will nick the odd game by the skin of teeth and against the run of play – witness the home win vs Man City pre-lockdown – but, without wanting to sound too dramatic, this business of simply surrendering possession and inviting the other lot to have a go for 90 straight minutes saps the will to live.

2. Kane Fitness

It came as little surprise to note that Harry Kane barely registered his presence throughout proceedings, given that the young nib typically needs half a dozen games to build up a head of steam.

On the rare occasions the ball sailed through his sphere of influence he duly trotted out his impression of one trudging through quicksand, all notions of him bursting into a blur of acceleration kept well under lock and key.

Not that I’m criticising the chap particularly, for he was hardly the only one who seemed taken by surprise by the fact that an actual game of football was happening around him, but I think we had all sneakily hoped that having recovered from injury Kane might already have been in peak condition and straining at the leash.

His lack of match sharpness should, in theory, present a conundrum of sorts, as the only way in which he can attain the aforementioned MS is by obediently trotting out one game after another, which is far from ideal when the engine is yet to rev up. However, in practice it’s no conundrum at all, as omitting this particular slab of meat is clearly not an option.

3. Everyone Else’s Fitness

As mentioned, Kane was not the only soul who seemed not to be up with current affairs.

The dashing, breezy Sonny of yesteryear was replaced by a sullen twin. While seeming to give brief consideration to forward bursts whenever he received the ball, after a short conflab of the voices in his head he appeared repeatedly to conclude that discretion beat valour hands down each time, and Walking Football was the order of the day.

Winks and Sissoko seemed similarly invisible for much of the evening, which I suppose had much to do with the fact that, rather than being in possession of the ball, they spent most of the game dutifully chasing the shadows of United players as they pinged the thing one way and another. Both intermittently flitted into view, in the manner of one who, when working from home, sends an occasional calculated email to remind The Boss of their existence, but in general each was a model nonentity, and seemed perfectly content with the label.

4. Lamela

Young Lamela occasionally caught the eye by virtue of being marginally less average than the rest of the mob, at least in intent, if not end-product.

It is generally a pretty reliable bet that he will be cautioned within fifteen minutes of entering the fray, and while he avoided that fate yesterday this was as much due to the random goodwill of the chief arbiter of proceedings, rather than any restraint on Lamela’s part. He seems always to scoot around with the air of one who has been wronged and is therefore determined to have a petulant kick at anyone who wafts into his vicinity.

This is mildly preferable to the meek and mild approach of far too many in lilywhite over the years, for it at least suggests that he cares a jot or two, so I rather welcomed the sight of his pointless snaps and nibbles yesterday.

Generally however, it was all to little avail. When his energy gave him the opportunity to affect the game in a more productive way, he repeatedly failed to deliver the right ball, and one wondered if the technical bods had at their fingertips the sound effects of the White Hart Lane groan.

Lamela would do well to take a leaf out of the Bergwijn book of end products – but one suspects he will have to do so pretty swiftly, for it can only be a matter of time before Our Glorious Leader beats the attacking vim and verve out of Bergwijn, and has him gloomily ceding possession and backing off into a defensive template like everyone else.

5. Son’s Corners

But on a pleasing note, Son’s corners are a dashed sight better than the bizarrely inept dross that Christian Eriksen used to purvey, Son’s having the distinct virtue of reaching beyond the body-parts of the nearest defender. So maybe there is hope in this brave new world after all. Huzzah!

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.

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

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.

AANP’s book Spurs’ Cult Heroes is available on Amazon. There’s a follow-up in the offing too, as it happens.

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