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Southampton 2-5 Spurs: Four Tottenham Talking Points

As 5-2 victories go this one was of the lesser-sighted ilk, that has one slapping the thigh in satisfaction, for sure, but also musing to one’s neighbour that we pulled it off without at any point playing particularly well. It would be a little crude to say that this was simply a triumph of lobbing balls over the top of a fairly clueless opposition defence – but only a little.

1. Ndombele

Premier Sports appear to have hit upon one heck of a market strategy judging by the midweek experience, of pocketing AANP’s hard-earned cash and promptly downing tools. However, in between the blank screens and random Serie A montages during our Europa jaunt on Thursday I did get to see enough of Ndombele’s cameo to suggest that if the stars align he could be the one that gets the pistons firing.

The shoulder-dips to wriggle free of minders were reminiscent of Mousa Dembele – blessed be his name – while Ndombele also appeared instinctively to look for those short, defence-splitting, diagonal passes whenever the aforementioned shoulder-dip had allowed him room.

After the torpor that had preceded, it made for pretty radical viewing, and although one rarely knows quite how the cogs whir inside Jose’s curious little mind it was no massive surprise to see Ndombele given the opportunity to peddle his wares from the off today.

And when he did end up in possession I thought he delivered more of the same. The problem was that he only ended up in possession about five times in the entire half, but it ought not to detract from the fact that each of those occasions made for a pretty pleasing highlights reel. Shoulder-dip-enabled wriggles and diagonal passes were very much the instructions being delivered by the voices in his head, and he held up his part of the bargain.

Early on he played a pass through the middle, and while both Sonny and Kane were each comfortably offside, the very fact that he possessed both the vision and chops to attempt such a thing – in a land in which Harry Winks was haring around demanding the ball just so that he could immediately roll it backwards ten yards – was the sort of encouraging stuff one gulps down.

Ndombele’s piece de resistance of course, was the moment bang on half-time in which he somehow managed to unite in one movement tribute acts to both Mousa Dembele and Luka Modric, arguably our two finest midfielders of the past twenty years.

The strength and control to pirouette was worthy of Dembele, and took out two Southampton defenders at once; the placement and weighting of the pass took out another two. Kane and Sonny delivered their lines with the professionalism one would expect, and we went into half-time with a parity that was barely deserved.

Much of the purring around that goal was directed towards Kane and Son, which was understandable enough, given that each made a pretty difficult task look akin to shelling peas stolen from babies – but here at AANP Towers we have rather the soft spot for those unsung heroes who assist the assist, and Ndombele’s contribution did much to alter the momentum of a game that was drifting from us a tad.

2. Lo Celso

So it was no real surprise to see Jose hook Ndombele immediately and dabble in a spot of Lo Celso for the second half instead.

And credit where due, where Ndombele’s contribution had vitally altered the scoreline, Lo Celso’s altered the general pattern of play. One does not want to massage the ego any more than is absolutely necessary, but a congratulatory nod is probably due to our esteemed head coach.

Lo Celso appeared to pitch his tent a good ten or fifteen yards further north of Ndombele’s stomping ground, and it allowed for a little more subtlety to the general tactic of lobbing the ball over the top and chasing.

With Lo Celso pushing further up the field, and Kane dropping into deeper pockets, the relationship between midfield and attack, which in the first half had been little more than strangers in similar garb exchanging suspicious looks, blossomed into something vastly more convivial. As if to cement the entente cordiale, Lo Celso duly assisted two of the assists in the second half., which obviously made him the toast of the town within these four walls.

The successes – of sorts – of both Lo Celso and Ndombele in their respective cameos in that third midfield slot does make one dizzyingly wonder quite how the cup of creativity might overfloweth if the two of them were paired together. But perhaps we cannot expect Jose’s attacking instincts to extend quite so far, and for the foreseeable it will be one or the other, with two midfield minders in attendance to keep a lid on any frivolity.

3. Dele Alli

Quite where Dele Alli fits into all this is one for the square-peg-round-hole specialists to mull over. Our Glorious Leader does have something of the vindictive ex-wife about him when it comes to picking a scapegoat and slinging some mud, so Dele probably ought not to take his squad exclusion too greatly to heart, but for this month at least he appears to have been identified by Jose as The Cause Of All Life’s Ills, so he had better get used to the feeling.

One might argue, and in pretty compelling fashion, given the evidence of the senses, that Dele’s particular bag of tricks is not quite the right fit for the current formation. However, I am inclined to think that if Jose wanted team Hotspur to include one Alli, D. Esquire then Jose would find a way to do so. It is not so much that the young eel does not fit the formation as that Jose is simply casting his admiring glances at other shiny toys in his box – and Dele will simply have to apply more make-up in order to win back those lost affections.

While there have been some rumbles of discontent about the place at the omission of the chap, it would be remiss to suggest that pitchforks are being sharpened and villages burned in indignation. His absence is not being particularly lamented. When on song, Dele has the technique – not to mention eye for goal – to make himself a nuisance in and around the opposition box.

But when off the boil – and let’s face it, for various reasons this has been the case for at least a season – he appears neither one thing nor another. Unless one of those things is a midfield presence who takes far too many touches in possession, sucking momentum out of attacks, in which case he is absolutely that thing.

The breathless nature of the fixture list in the coming weeks means that Dele need not sulk in the corner for too long, as his services will doubtless be required. The Carabao Cup must, after all, go on. He would be well advised, however, to take a cautionary glance over his shoulder, for with a sudden overload of attacking sorts mooching about the camp he will need to do more than simply go through the motions and attempt nutmegs every time he receives possession if he is to elbow his way back up the midfield pecking order.

4. Son, Kane… and Bale

Son and Kane naturally enough are the names in lights tonight, what with their clinical finishing and exquisite vision and passing. The humility overload as every figure in lilywhite attempted to pass credit to someone else did nauseate pretty swiftly, but that can be excused. They were five lovely goals, and whatever else is malfunctioning about the place we are dashed lucky to have those two up top.

Given what had gone before, this game seemed like it would result in anything but a five-goal salvo. The evidence of the first half suggested that this was set to be another dubious Jose performance, as low on fight as possession – but such is the benefit of having world-class strikers. Having been second best for half the game, our forwards randomly turned the scoreline into an absolute mauling before anyone had really registered how that midfield struggle of the first half was unfolding in the second.

And with the excitement of Bale’s return in recent days, it has made one reflect that the last time he was in our ranks, our lot were similarly low on a defined system. Back then, the plan as often as not was simply to cross halfway, give it to Bale and sit back in the knowledge that he’d likely find a way to score (typically by galloping forward twenty yards and then leathering it from distance, teammates present for decorative value only).

And in the first half at least, until Lo Celso did the honourable thing, the tactic seemed to be a variation on a similar theme – lob the ball into the final third for Son and Kane, and sit back in the knowledge that they’d likely find a way to score. The tactics barely need tweaking to accommodate Bale.

However, given that the excitement dial has simply exploded into a puff of smoke at AANP Towers, in a fashion not seen since Klinsmann’s signing was unveiled in ’94, one can be excused for simply waving away tactics and dreaming of quite how good the attack might look. If Kane and Son can magic up five goals between them at the head of a fairly rudimentary system, imagine what delights Kane, Son and Bale might provide. The mind boggles.

Spurs 0-1 Everton: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. New Season, Same Dross

The cheery new-season optimism at AANP Towers dissipated after around 7 minutes, which feels like it might be some sort of record.

Having raced around immediately post kick-off as though they meant business, our heroes pretty swiftly reverted to type once those initial sprints had been sprinted, and spent the remaining 83+ minutes of the game displaying all those ominous traits that had wormed their way into the fittings at the end of last season.

Mistaking today’s opponents for Barcelona circa 2012 we generally sat off them, genial hosts that we are, and let them do as they please, wherever they pleased.

In possession, ‘Anything But Urgency’ seemed to be the mantra, as the ball was gently plopped this way and that in the slow, soothing and threat-free manner of a lullaby one might hum to a sleepy infant.

Service of any sort to Kane was unapologetically removed from the menu; a goal was conceded from a pretty rudimentary set-piece; and having gone behind our lot appeared to down tools and relax, seemingly under the misapprehension that this was a two-legged affair, and there would be plenty of opportunity to correct things at a later date.

Since his arrival Jose has seemed to enjoy reeling off a chorus along the lines of ‘Give me a pre-season and I’ll show you a team in my image’ – but the evidence of our eyes was that of a team whose dial has been set to ‘Underwhelming’ and is absolutely not for deviating from that course.

2. Hojbjerg

Since I write this thing under oath I might as well come clean and admit to my public that when Hojbjerg signed up, while not exactly moved to dancing a jig, I nevertheless went out of my way to nod in approval and insist to those within earshot that here was a smart purchase.

On paper, everywhere you cared to look there was a ticked box. The chap was evidently fond of a tackle, had the good sense to position himself in the sort of positions that upset opposition attacks at source, had run a lap or two in the Premier League and was reasonably well priced. A cure to all life’s ills he might not quite have been, but a dashed handy addition to the rack he most certainly was.

And, continuing the spirit of Bible-sworn honesty, I thought that his opening quarter of an hour in lilywhite did much of what was scrawled on the tin. He tackled, he positioned himself usefully within spitting distance of the back-four, he poked his nose in Everton’s business. It was low-key stuff admittedly, and no bones were shattered or worlds set alight – but it seemed to be the good, honest stuff of which behind-the-scenes midfield minders are made.

The commentary bods evidently disagreed, and with considerable strength of feeling, but in the early stages at least I thought it was all palatable enough. Being Tottenham through and through, one is inclined to give the newbies the benefit of the doubt, plus a little extra. To do otherwise would not be cricket.

However, as the hands of time continued on their relentless march, so Hojbjerg’s contributions became by turns less remarkable, then more ordinary, and then downright ragged, if you pardon the fruity language.

Now one does not slander one’s fellow Spur lightly, and much less on debut, so a little perspective would not go amiss. This was no horror-show, it simply meandered into ineffective territory, which happens to the best of us.

But having been heralded as the sort of bean who would call spades spades and stamp down on any nonsense, it was a heck of a downer to see levels of midfield bite drop to zero, levels of midfield creativity fail to rise above zero and life drain away well before the curtain came down. Hojbjerg remains a good player, and the odds are that the coming weeks and months will demonstrate as much, but this was disappointing stuff.

3. Doherty

The other shiny new toy in the cupboard was shoved about a mile up the right wing and told to get on with it. Hopes were high for young Doherty, and who knows, if he had picked his spot six inches to the east or west when through on goal the headlines might be of the upbeat and celebratory variety.

Alas, his diem went un-carped, and instead we were left to reflect on a curious sort of performance that was neither one thing nor the other until he ran out of puff and had mercy shown.

He seemed to get the broad gist that his role was as much attacking as anything else, and it is worth remembering that by virtue of not being Serge Aurier he did not contribute anything in the way of kamikaze penalties or red cards from thin air.

At the same time, one got the impression as often as not that a geography lesson or two might be in order, as at times he seemed to be a member of the back-four in name only, being stationed a good twenty yards from the others even when on the back-foot.

Presumably other days will showcase better his crossing ability, but it was a shame that his expertise in this area was rarely used. The dash forward and one-two with Kane that led to his big chance did at least give the watching world a glimpse of the man’s capabilities, and I rather fancy that if the urgency he showed in driving into the Everton area in that instance were to become the norm, then the world would be a better place.

As with Hojbjerg, one would assume that better days will come.

4. Brighter Notes

Still feeling in honest mood I’ll confess that this is gearing up to be one of the shorter paragraphs of the memoirs, but I thought Davies made a passable contribution, and hared forward a few times as if he knew Danny Rose were watching and waiting for fresh material about which to complain.

Lucas also at least had the decency to look interested, even if just about every attempt of his to build a head of steam and become some unstoppable force of nature stalled at take-off.

And, gloriously, we always have Jose’ secret weapon, The Lightning Quick Counter-Attack From The Opposition Corner. In the absence of any other tactic, one deviously wonders if we might start deliberately conceding corners, precisely to create the platform for Sonny, Lucas and Kane to gallop the length of the pitch and fashion a one-on-one. Now if that’s not grounds for boundless, sunny optimism about the future, then frankly I don’t know what is.

Newcastle 1-3 Spurs: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. Tactics (And The Great Jose-AANP Stand-Off)

I’m not actually on personal terms with Jose, but I suspect that if our paths were to cross we would hit it off immediately like a couple of the boys – jesting away, opening a bottle of the good stuff, maybe even dabbling in a little of that lockdown Spanish I’ve been aprend-ing as it’s a tongue Jose has no doubt mastered. One would not be able to hear one’s own thoughts for all the bonhomie about the place.

However, once conversation turned to the little matter of Jose’s Tactics At N17, I cannot help but think that the music would stop, the room would fall silent and a pretty sinister air would descend, and sharpish. Any knives about the place would be busily employed in cutting the tension.

A win is a win, and two wins in pretty similar fashion have no doubt lifted the gloom. This, I graciously grant him. There was much to admire about the energy and attitude of the players against that ‘orrible lot from Woolwich – and frankly one got the sense that, albeit with a tweak in formation and a little less fraught in general, the formula employed last night was of the Rinse-And-Repeat variety. Our lot politely nudged the initiative back to Newcastle, kept them at arm’s length and then, having floated butterfly-like while Newcastle huffed and puffed, stung them like a whole squadron of bees when opportunity arose.

Back to the meeting of minds in the smoking room, and while Jose would no doubt rattle off a few truths about the upturn in results, tension would remain – as is no doubt common in the meeting of two such esteemed footballing minds – as AANP would insist that our lot did not create enough pretty patterns.

This remains a sticking point at AANP Towers. I’m not sure of the collective noun for debacles, but this nameless entity appeared in all its glory during the course of the Sheffield United, Everton and Bournemouth games (even though we won one of them), representing some of the worst football we’ve seen over the years. Things have undoubtedly improved since, and there is now at least a strategy in place – but the chap calling the numbers last night stated at one point that Newcastle average around thirty-something percent possession per game, and yet we seemed happy to let them have as much of the ball as they pleased!

Our strategy – Jose’s strategy – still seems to be one of sitting back and countering. There are lies, and damn lies, and whatnot, and the stats apparently indicate that since taking the reins Jose has the fourth or fifth best record in the division – but the evidence of our eyes is that this is not entertaining stuff. Nor is there much to suggest that this will change in the new season. In any future social engagements between Jose and AANP, a frosty atmosphere will remain.

2. Lucas Eats His Spinach Again

The tactics might not have met with the sort of thunderous applause within AANP Towers that makes its foundations quiver, but I had approving looks that I was dishing about the place with gay abandon for the personnel involved.

‘Sore Limbs’ was no doubt the headline about the place following Sunday’s exertions, but the same starting eleven took to the field and did as instructed, to solid effect.

As on Sunday, Lucas set the early tone, displaying energy both in possession and in tracking back. His little twinkle-toed dribbles, while rarely amounting to much, did nevertheless quicken the pulse and keep the Newcastle lot honest, and much of the success of the 4-3-3-cum-4-5-1 was due to the workrate of he and Sonny around its boundaries.

3. Kane’s All-Rounding

Before his goals, Harry Kane had been tossed little more than an occasional scrap in the penalty area, so he naturally enough came sniffing around in midfield to see what was on offer, and not for the first time gave the impression of being the pick of the midfield bunch, even though the smallprint prevents this from being legally correct.

It might be to do with the fact that collecting the ball when coming from attack – à la Teddy – gives a greater awareness of options than when advancing from defence, but whatever the reasons, I feel like I could pour myself a splash and spend hours on end watching Kane pick up the ball from deep and spray it around the place.

On top of which, he then scored two goals that could immediately be stamped as ‘No Nonsense’, made to look pretty straightforward despite both being far from. Such is the talent of the chap.

4. Winks: Good, In His Limited Way

Further south, young Winks was as neat and tidy as his haircut demands. Forever sprinting to make himself available for passes, with all the gay vivacity of youth, he then typically bipped a quick pass to a nearby chum and repeated the process from the top.

Put yourself in the shoes of any of the back four or midfield sorts, and one suspects you’d be pretty glad that whenever you received the ball you’d always spot a Winks-shaped blur of movement in the corner of your eye, availing himself for service.

This being AANP however – now officially graduated to middle-aged grump, since Covid began – I cannot simply enjoy this good news with a joyous skip in a nearby meadow. Winks, in his breakthrough seasons had the potential of a lad who might have a pass in his pocket reminiscent of those great lock-pickers of recent years. Where Carrick, Hudd and Modric once cut through great swathes with one well-identified killer ball, Winks, one hoped, would follow.

Alas, the whelp seems not to dare play a pass if it carries a jot of risk. One understands, but as he is hardly a defensive enforcer either, it means that even when near his best – as I fancied he was yesterday – although a useful sort to have about the place he flits between being one thing and another, fulfilling the key requirements of neither.

Those yearning for Winks to evolve into a Carrick, Hudd or Modric will be disappointed. Winks has value, and yesterday I thought he was possibly the pick of the bunch, but I suspect this is as good as he will get and as much as he will offer.

5. Lamela And The Impact Subs

It was a big day for impact subs, which I suppose we ought to have foreseen given the short turnaround between games.

It turns out that young Bergwijn had one of his less glorious cameos, when one sits down and actually counts all the beans, but one cannot help but be enthused by what he brings in general, and yesterday he delivered the sort of cross (for Kane’s first goal) that I suspect few of us realised he had in his repertoire.

And then there’s Lamela. Quite the curio this chap. Plainly capable of reaching outrageous heights, when signed there was a murmur that he would become for us essentially what Mo Salah became for Liverpool, even though we signed him before Mo Salah became Mo Salah for Liverpool – which does make the head swim a bit.

The gist is that hopes were high. Fast forward six or seven years, and every Lamela performance is so similar that bingo cards can be produced allowing the eagle-eyed punter to tick off his contributions.

A niggly sort, he will undoubtedly hare around and snap at ankles, often in the late fashion that earns reprieves and stern words if not cards, from the resident officiators.

And then there is his on-ball stuff, which typically involves:
A) A promising dribble, segueing into:
B) The realisation that he is still on the ball when several passing opportunities have been and gone, followed by:
C) The roll of watching eyes as one realises that he is still on the ball, having taken half a dozen touches more than were necessary, but is now being swarmed upon and crowded out.

Add to this the fact that he will roll his foot over the ball at every opportunity – even, in defiance of the laws of physics, when passing it – and one can probably yelp “Lamela Bingo!” and claim a small fluffy toy.

But like a broken clock a couple of times a day, the chap does strike oil, and just as it seemed that his latest dribble was about to result in that swarmed-upon-and-crowded-out routine (C, above), he somehow step-overed his way to freedom and teed himself up for a shot. Quite how he did so is still being investigated, but credit where due, it was pretty special stuff. A shame he could not apply the coup de grâce himself, but it resulted in a goal nevertheless.

Spurs 1-0 Everton: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. The Fight!

Fling around the words “fight” and “football match” in the same sentence and the chances are that the images conjured will be of burly sun-kissed sorts greeting one another through the crashing of plastic seats against skulls, the flailing of muscled limbs and the spraying of blood like nobody’s business, prompting the nearest politician to remind us how disgraceful it all is.

So if news had reached the uninitiated of the unchecked melee that was yesterday’s Lloris-Son confrontation, over-protective parents would no doubt have forbidden their offspring from ever again watching Spurs in action, for fear of uncontrollable violence breaking out on our screens at any given moment.

As it happened however, this was just about the most Spurs “fight” imaginable, with all the vicious thuggery of a token attempt at a tackle by Glenn Hoddle. Lloris’ scent for blood was so wild that he was moved to give a gentle push not to Son himself but to the chap standing in between him and Son; while Son for his part, looked like he was about to burst into tears, and wanted the solace of a hug from his mother, and pronto.

Nevertheless, it ranks as one of the highlights of Jose’s reign to date. Admittedly there’s hardly stiff competition on that front, but the sight of someone in lilywhite actually caring enough to do anything other than cruise through the game on autopilot was just about the most encouraging development of the resumption so far. And if some uncouth blasphemies were uttered in the process then so much the better. “All for a greater good”, was the motto on AANP’s lips.

With performances as bad as they’ve been since the 90s, and the good work of five consecutive seasons fairly thoroughly undone over the last 12 months, our mob have been typified by lack of urgency in attack, lack of organisation in defence – and, crucially, underpinning the whole sorry saga has been a general level of fight throughout the team that rarely extends beyond an unconcerned shrug of the shoulders. The sort of shrug that says “Things aren’t ideal old sport, granted, but one can’t expect me personally to do much to change things around here, and if you ask me mid-table obscurity is not such a bad thing”. In short, not the sort of shrug one wants to see from our brightest and best.

So to witness the captain come haring halfway up the pitch to have a yelp at a teammate (over what was actually a fairly minor indiscretion) was a most welcome departure from the norm. Whisper it, but if that attitude spreads then standards around the premises might even rise a notch or three.

Like or loathe them, young bucks like Kyle Walker and Benny Assou-Ekotto at least played the game as if their lives depended upon winning their individual on-pitch duals, and Lloris’ peculiar meltdown suggested that maybe an echo of that mentality lingers.

Some might make stern clucking noises, and point to Eric Dier’s attempt to clobber someone in the stands, various players whingeing about their contract situation and now a push-and-shove between teammates, and pontificate that if this isn’t the end of days then they don’t know what is. In these parts, however, Lloris’ little huff was most welcome, and it is fervently to be hoped that the attitude spreads.

2. The Return of Toby

Before the distraction of seeing peers and teammates attack each other with wild abandon, the highlight of what was, even by our recent standards, some pretty stodgy fare, was the return to honest employment of Toby Alderweireld.

To say that I reacted to news of his return like a child glimpsing a long-absent father-figure and promptly dropping everything in order to dash into his arms and receive a comforting embrace would be overstating it, but only just.

If the previous week’s game vs Sheffield Utd had taught us anything, it was that our defence was an utter shambles, light on organisation and communication, and pretty much inviting all-comers to gambol within and do as they pleased. I mention this because in the areas of organisation, communication and giving the stern eye to all-comers hoping to gambol, Toby ranks amongst the best. He certainly strikes me as the best in our current ranks. Probably not scaling the peaks of yesteryear, when “Think again, laddie” seemed to be the catchphrase delivered to any opposing attacker who wanted to try their luck, but reports of his descent into immobility and redundancy seem pretty wildly off the mark.

And so, the quiet removal of the Dier-Sanchez axis, and return of Toby, immediately injected a sense of composure where previously it had been open season on panic. He might not be the fleetest of foot, but Toby immediately transmits an aura of calmness in defence – and given the cluelessness of last week we needed all the defensive calmness we get could our hands on.

The official party line was that Toby was back because he is better at playing the ball out from defence than Sanchez. This arguably is true, but it also rather kindly overlooks the fact that Toby is still a dashed sight better at judging flighted balls, intercepting, man-marking and organising.

As it happened, he was not tested too rigorously – but neither did he suddenly make himself noticeable by producing a horrendous misjudgement out of nowhere.

3. Lo Celso Underwhelms

Pre-match, I actually went as far as to look forward with some excitement to what the following 90 minutes would bring, because the teamsheet suggested that Lo Celso might be deployed in the sort of advanced position that would provide the perfect platform for one of his vision and technique to run the entire performance.

The stage was certainly set, with Winks behind him to do the tidying, and Sissoko available to do the legwork.

Alas, Lo Celso himself gave the air of one who had had an early look at what was on offer and decided that it was not for him. In the latter stages he picked one or two well-weighted passes, but by and large this was one of those games in which he seemed content simply to mooch along in fairly inconspicuous fashion.

I still retain confidence that he will be the chap around whom our team will be built, but yesterday was good opportunity for him to peddle some of those creative wares, and when the hour cometh, the man largely faded into the background.

4. Sonny: Man of the Match By Default?

During the dying embers of the game my Spurs-supporting chum Dave noted in socially-distanced fashion that one would have the dickens of a job trying to name a Man of the Match, and in this respect he spoke sooth. Even by our recent standards, this was about as turgid as it gets.

Mercifully, in Everton we played opponents even more devoid of inspiration than we are, which I would not have thought possible beforehand, but there you go, what?

I struggle to think of any clear chances created, nor many slick passing moves, beyond one in the first half involving Kane, Lo Celso and Son. Slim pickings, and it was entirely in keeping with a game in which moments of skill barely registered on the meter that the only goal was a deflection on a shot that was flying well wide of the mark.

Young Winks, I thought, buzzed around busily and tidily without ever doing anything remotely threatening in possession, but only Son really looked like he would give the Everton defence any cause for concern. There was rarely any end product, as the other lot got wise pretty swiftly to his trick of shifting onto his right foot and curling, but nevertheless, every time he got the ball he at least showed some urgency. (Albeit not enough to keep happy Monsier Lloris.)

And that was that. Another Spurs-supporting chum asked at full-time whether I would accept every game being like that if it meant winning a trophy, and I rather gagged a little at the prospect. Even in the short-term, we are faced with the ignominy of finishing in the Europa League position, which seems like the worst of all worlds. A thousand times better, of course, to have won last night than lost, but I rather sense that we’ll have to wait until next season to get a sense of Jose’s big grand plan.

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 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 – Man Utd Preview: 4 Tottenham Talking Points

And so it begins again – and in truth receiving a pretty frosty reception in this part of town.

Given our form, injuries and the general way of all things lilywhite pre-apocalypse, I had greeted the abrupt end to proceedings with secret relief, and was all for the expunging of records. “Restore the end-18/19 standings,” was the anthem resounding at AANP Towers, “And if the managerial changes can also be undone, so much the better.”

Alas, such reasonable requests have been ignored. Joseball will be making our eyes bleed again quicker than we can ask “Is a tactic of 35% possession at home and looking to nick something in the final ten really the best way to go about things?”

1. Jose’s Tactics

The Ben Davies Gambit, unveiled to considerable success in Jose’s first game (of 4 at the back when defending and 3 when attacking, resulting in joyous attacking overloads and Good Dele) has proved a hoax. Jose’s true intentions all along appear to have been to retreat 20 years into our own half straight from kick off, and, broadly, hope for the best.

While one sucks up this rot when it’s an injury-hit Champions League night vs Leipzig, the whole routine is rather heavy going when it’s at home to Norwich or some such dross on the lower rungs.

Now admittedly the chap took on a tough gig. CL Finalists we might have been in name, but the mob he inherited needed more than just a lick of paint to get rediscover the old swagger. Key players were past their peak; those who weren’t had been flogged into the ground over the last few seasons; and there was an odd lop-sidedness to the whole mechanism.

So not necessarily the sort of vehicle one would proudly parade in front of envious neighbours – but neither was it the sort of decrepit cast of vagrants and amateurs fit only for ceding possession and playing on the counter-attack. Just about every young bean on the payroll was an international, capable of attracting admiring glances from CL Teams if subjected to the ‘Who Would Buy Them?’ test. Clueless, pootling mid-tablers they were not.

However, Jose has now had a few weeks to mould this lot to his foul preferences. While not exactly a bona fide pre-season it’s probably been the next been thing, so while it is probably a bit much to expect some sort of all-singing, all-dancing, feast of whirring goodness, at the very least one would hope for some defensive solidity and a game-plan slightly more expansive than soak-it-up-and-hope.

2. Injuries No More (Almost)

I still don’t think it fully excused the unique blend of negativity and chaos that stank the place out each week, but the swathe of injuries certainly did knock the stuffing somewhat, pre-Covid.

Merrily that excuse is can now elbowed aside – well, to an extent, as it appears that the boy Lo Celso is made of biscuits and therefore not yet ready for action. This is actually one heck of an elbow to the ribs, as the young egg gave a good impression of the sort around whom a team might be built.

Young Tanganga is also tucked up in bed necking paracetamol, but better news resounds on those other beans who were last seen covered from stern to stem in bandages. Messrs Kane, Son and Sissoko are apparently now injury-free, which is a blessed relief, because without them we increasingly resembled the victims of cinematic ne’er-do-well The Predator once their spines had been ripped from them, they too ending up with a bereft and useless air.

Young Master Bergwijn has also apparently been given an approving nod by some intelligent sort with a stethoscope, which means that Our Glorious Leader will have options a-plenty when the twenty-minute mark rolls along and he decides to make five substitutions at once.

3. Kane And The Need to Hit The Ground Running

The life and works of Harry Kane are generally headline news, so all eyes will presumably be trained in his direction once he lumbers into action, and while his return from injury for these final ten games is a blessing, there is a distinct caution in the air.

For all his assets – and one generally cannot swing a cat without hitting two or three of them – he is generally not the quickest out of the blocks when first settling into things, be it at the start of a new season or on his return from an injury.

Having been bunkered away for something like six months, one fears that it might take him several games to build a full head of steam, and with the games coming thick and fast we rather need him to dispense with the gentle warm-up and go flying straight into battle at full pelt.

Not to over-egg the point but much depends on the honest fellow, so while the empty stadium will not resound to much more than grunts and curses of those playing, you can bet that living rooms across the country will be filled with the muttered prayers of the long-suffering, willing the chap to hit peak form and pronto.

4. An Improved (And Fit) Ndombele?

In theory I suppose one might hone in every member of the squad and wonder what sort of player they will be when emerging back onto the greenery, but Ndombele will make for a particularly fascinating case-study.

Having been feted as up there alongside sliced bread and the wheel when first unveiled, and even now boasting a highlights reel that makes him look pretty unplayable, a full, unedited 90 minutes makes for a slightly more underwhelming spectacle.

One doesn’t like to poke fun, but the lad did seem rather to struggle with the pace of things here in sunny north London, to the extent that it appeared necessary to ration him to one single, solitary sprint per match, after which he could do little more than stagger around the centre circle in exhaustion.

The whispers from on high suggest that improving Ndombele’s fitness became something of a personal crusade for Jose during lockdown. If it bore fruit it will have been time well spent, because one imagines that a fit and active Ndombele could be a thing of beauty, and one heck of an asset to his nearby chums. The fear, of course, is that his allergy to stamina will live with him from cradle to grave, so one holds the breath and rattles off a few more of those living-room prayers.

All told, there is a nameless dread filling the air at AANP Towers, in case you hadn’t picked up as much already. And yet, beneath it all, there lurks that tiny sliver of hope – that actually, we’re still within social distance of the CL places; that the injury crisis is over; that Jose has drilled some tactical sense into even those stupid enough to post pictures of themselves on social media breaking lockdown; that these remaining games might even be a moderate success, and we might yet make the Champions League.

Villa 2-3 Spurs: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Shaky Defence and Avoidable Opening Goal

Villa started like a runaway train, which was a reasonable enough stance for them to adopt, so no complaints there, but what did irk was the unnecessarily obliging fashion in which we let them rampage about the place.

The legend surrounding our newest Glorious Leader is that he is the sort of bean who likes nothing better than sitting down with a troupe and instilling the fundamentals of defending deep within their very souls. And Jose having been treated to a good ten days or so to do exactly that, my hopes of seeing some green shoots of defensive stability were, if not exactly high, at least registering on the scale.

However, the evidence paraded was pretty emphatically to the contrary, right from kick-off. In fact, we managed to begin the game looking for all the world like a team hanging on for dear life in the dying embers, which made the mind swim a bit.

Evidently swimming minds was a bit of a theme, because our back four spent those opening exchanges stumbling around as if punch drunk. The fault did not lie entirely at their door, as little was offered by our midfield by way of protection from their runners or wing-backs, but in general the phrase “Knife through butter” was the one that sprung to mind as Villa repeatedly cantered through.

Their opener neatly summed up the state of things at the back. He has generally escaped censure, but I thought Ben Davies could have done more than merely waggle a leg in the first place, allowing the Newcastle lad to gather a head of steam down their right.

The cross that followed admittedly caught a deflection that made it dip in the flight, but I still jabbed an accusatory finger at Monsieur Lloris, for taking one meaningful step towards the ball – as if to come out all guns blazing to gather it and uproot any other object in his path – and then deciding that the quiet life was for him.

And Toby similarly might have averted catastrophe if he had approached the matter with a decisive air and clouted the ball to kingdom come, but alas, between the ball’s dipping flight and Lloris’ quiet life there appeared to be too many variables for the chap to compute, and one could almost see the steam rise from his frazzled circuits as he plopped the ball into his own net.

2. The Front Four And Chances Made

Mercifully, matters improved steadily thereafter. There was still a flimsiness about our defence (although I thought Sanchez went about earning his weekly envelop with admirable composure and solidity), but further north we gradually found our bearings.

Oddly enough, we actually benefited from Villa’s bright opening, as they seemed emboldened to throw men forward, which set things up nicely for our counter-attack. A pleasing irony.

The interplay of Son, Lucas, Dele and Bergwijn acted as a pretty welcome restorative, after the shambles we had sprayed in all directions when in retreat. It appeared that all four members of the quartet were well rehearsed in their dinky passes and searing runs, and the chances duly flowed.

In fact, I cannot remember many occasions in recent times on which the chances have flowed quite so liberally. Playing a lesser light of the Premier League undoubtedly chivvies these things along, but nevertheless. It seemed that every couple of minutes one of our front four were haring into the penalty area.

The effect was admittedly spoilt by the inability of the aforementioned front four to applying the finishing touch, but they undoubtedly generated goodwill in the construction of each chance, and the mood at AANP Towers was accordingly positive. The goals will come”, whispered the voice in my head, and it had a point, for the important thing seemed to be to continue to create chances, rather than worrying too much about the fact that they every one of them seemed to be pinged straight down the gullet of the Villa ‘keeper.

Aside from the general, warm fuzziness provided by seeing our lot repeatedly carve out opportunities, perhaps the most pleasing aspect was the fact that rather than run out of ideas and pass sideways, with half-hearted shrugs as if to say “Out of ideas over here, guv,” when in possession our lot began dabbling in neat, short, diagonal passes forward, complemented by intelligent running ahead of them. Just five- and ten-yard stuff, but it was between the lines, visibly befuddled Villa and generally created a platform for one or other of our mob to have a crack.

Where previously hammering away at teams has much about it of simply banging one’s head against a wall, today, rather than scuttle up cul-de-sacs, our forwards regularly picked out sensible, short, forward passes that moved matters swiftly on. Admittedly none of the three goals were directly due to such devilry, but one could plausibly argue that the cumulative effect of our pressure had some bearing.

3. Dele Alli’s Swagger

He may have spurned chance after chance after chance, but I shall assume that when Dele Alli lights up his meditative evening pipe he will look back on his day with some satisfaction.

Stationed, in the first half at least, high up the pitch behind the main striker, he timed his forward bursts well to provide options to those around him, which we would all do well to bear in mind next time heated dispute breaks out over the whereabouts of his most effective position.

This in itself was pretty stirring stuff, and appreciative nods were therefore already the order of the day. However, what really had me nudging those nearby and murmuring that the chap looks to have returned to former glories was the general swagger with which he peddled his wares.

Not that I go in for this sort of thing in my daily rounds, but seeing him breeze around the pitch with a certain arrogance, wanting to be at the hub of things and rolling out the occasional flick and trick, made for an encouraging sight.

4. Another Breezy Showing From Bergwijn

The boy Bergwijn was another who had evidently taken it up himself pre-game to endear himself to AANP, and I am happy to report that the delivery was every bit as effective as the intent.

Where Son, Lucas and Dele seemed keen to jink inside and sniff around in central areas, as if keen to be up-to-date on all current affairs in the vicinity, Bergwijn tended to keep to himself a little more, generally stationing himself within shouting distance of the left-hand touchline and letting the others take care of things more centrally.

Which is not to say he shirks his responsibilities; far from it. Once the ball approached his sphere of influence – and in fact, pleasingly, even when it did not – he sparked into life and went tearing up the left flank.

His pace causes problems, he is not shy about taking a shot and, with the enthusiasm one would expect of a new cadet eager to please, he seems happy enough to toddle back and muck in with the less glamorous stuff. “Quietly effective” just about sums it up. In common with his attacking chums he spurned a handful of presentable chances, but he made himself a nuisance throughout, and appears to be a handy additional string to the bow.

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

Spurs’ Transfer Window: 5 Tottenham Talking Points

1. Farewell Danny Rose

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Toodle-Oo Christian Eriksen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Lo Celso Becomes Permanent

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

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

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

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

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

4. Fingers Crossed for Fernandes and Bergwijn

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

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

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

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

5. New Strikers (Or Absence Thereof)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Spurs 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.

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