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Spurs match reports

Brentford 0-0 Spurs: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Matty Cash (Stay With Me Here)

When Mother Nature was fashioning right wing-backs I fancy she sneaked off for a few minutes away from prying eyes, to surreptitiously create a red herring in amongst the quality stock, because Emerson Royal may have his talents (a debatable point, come to think of it) but wing-backery is not one of them. In fact, I’m still not convinced that this man is actually a professional footballer, in terms of the fine print and T’s and C’s. And yet history will record that this utter charlatan thrice appeared for Barcelona, which if nothing else goes to show what sorcery a cunning football agent is capable of.

To the surprise of no-one Emerson was at it again on Saturday, charging into cul-de-sacs like a toddler thrilling at a new game, and taking every available opportunity to make a pig’s ear of things when in possession.

There’s a broken record resounding with the four walls of AANP Towers, which continually belts out the refrain that for Conte’s system to work it blasted well needs a pair of pretty inspired wing-backs. Until Christian Eriksen returns we’re certainly not going to set any pulses racing in central midfield, where Messrs Hojbjerg and Bentancur are unfailingly polite and diligent, but respond with rather blank looks and the offer of a sideways pass when asked to create something. As such, the burden of expectation falls on those patrolling the flanks.

And this is where that pest Matty Cash lumbers into view, because until he took it upon himself to fling his entire body-weight at the knee of Matt Doherty a few weeks back, our lot could go about their 9-to-5 with at least one semi-decent wing-back in the ranks. Doherty seemed to have read the manual and got the gist of where to be and when. Even though, curiously, crossing the thing was never too high on his To-Do list, he still had enough good sense to plant himself in helpful attacking spots about the place.

Emerson, by contrast, is cursed with an inability to contribute helpfully to attacking matters – which to be honest, quite likely stems from his underlying inability to contribute helpfully to footballing matters more generally.

So when attempts to weave pretty meticulous routes straight down the centre came to naught, hopeful looks were cast towards the flanks for a spot of timely inspiration, only for those looks to fall upon Emerson Royal and become infused with a few shades of anguish.

Nor did the other flank bring a more productive harvest, being populated by young Sessegnon, who appears still petrified of his own shadow. All of which leaves me cursing with a great deal of spirit that damned Matty Cash (and, for good measure, Steven Gerrard, still hoovering up the goodwill around the place from his playing career to get away with such uncouth tactics as a manager). The Woolwich would do well to reward both with a handsome chunk of the winnings should they make the CL spot, because the absence of Doherty, while not the sole factor, has caused the whole operation to sag a bit.

2. Plan A

As alluded to above, the well of central midfield invention, if not quite bone dry, was certainly not threatening to spill over at the sides on Saturday.

That said, I’m not one to slap on the sackcloth and ashes and start bleating that our heroes simply moped about the place without caring a hang for matters of the turf. That was their domain last weekend vs Brighton. On Saturday vs Brentford, investment was at least made in the concept of prising out a chance.

The flanks were pretty derelict, arid territories, but our lot did have a couple of stabs at that business of quick, one-touching passing straight through the middle. And a chief inspector of such things might note that these endeavours met with some success. On a couple of occasions we successfully transferred the orb from circa. centre circle to circa. oppo penalty area with minimal oppo interference.

The problem was that by the time we hit oppo p.a. the whole operation ground to a halt, as we discovered that Brentford had populated the place with about fifty of their finest, and every possible avenue for entry was sealed off.

And that was pretty much the beginning, middle and end of Plan A. There was simply no way through via the centre, and our wing-backs were too dashed gormless to conjure up anything out east or out west.

3. Plan B

With Plan A thus fizzling out pretty much upon take-off, one could not impress enough upon our heroes the importance of a sturdy and viable Plan B, the sort that would force the Brentford mob to reconsider their lot in life and conjure up chances from new and exciting angles.

Unfortunately, while the theory of Plan B was sound, the reality of Plan B hit upon a pretty sizeable flaw, of the existential variety, in that it didn’t actually exist.

It’s difficult to say where the blame lies for this. Certainly the obvious direction for the accusatory finger to point is that of Our Glorious Leader, he being the nib tasked with devising such ruses. Conte appears very much a creature of tactical habit, wedded not only to his wing-backed 3-4-3, but also to pretty much an identical XI every week, if availability allows.

However, having played two games without registering a shot on target one might reasonably suggest that opponents are starting to get the hang of The Conte Way and, worse, finding ways to neuter it. And this, surely, is where the Big Cheese earns his monthly envelope, shrugging his shoulders at the unfortunate fate of Plan A and unveiling with a flourish some dastardly Plan B – and, ideally, also Plans C, D and E for good measure, if he is really in the mood.

Instead, Conte seems at as much of a loss as the rest of us, if the 3-4-3 and identical XI aren’t delivering the goods.

Now strictly speaking, if recording these musings under oath I would be in a bit of a spot, because this is a mild untruth. Cast your mind back to the rip-snorting draw with Liverpool back in December, and Conte lined up our heroes in a 5-3-2, to pretty decent effect when one takes all things into account.

These days however, Conte’s gambling blood doesn’t really extend much beyond flinging on Lucas for a ten-minute scamper and possibly Bergwijn in the dying embers of added time, neither of which really tear up the manual and indicate a wild and daring inversion of tactics.

Aside from Conte, I suppose one might direct a chastising poke of the ribs towards the actual players themselves, they being the souls in most direct command of proceedings. One never really feels comfortable attributing to footballers the capacity of enlightened thought and ingenuity, so it is perhaps asking a bit much of them to fix the tactical machinery mid-game. However, while it would be nice to see, unfortunately beyond Kane dropping into his little holes the market for such in-game player spontaneity is pretty much closed.

The alarming thing is that with only a handful of games left and precious little scope for further dropped points, we need a few viable alternatives and pronto. Actually, the alarming thing is the failure to hit a bally shot on target in two games, but you appreciate the forward-looking concern too.

4. Eriksen’s Corners

Of course, all such miseries and concerns rather faded away when one drank in the sight of Christian Eriksen treading the boards again, and long may he continue to do so.

His touch remains in pretty decent working order, and I noted with interest that the data bods awarded him the rosette for Most Distance Covered, which is the sort of stat that will do no harm to the Returning To Spurs rumours.

Back in his lilywhite days, my main gripe with the chap was that he tended to deliver his wizardry in fits and starts, flitting around the periphery of the match for much of it, rather than wading around knee-deep in the stuff from first whistle to last, as a man of his talent ought. Whether he is therefore the solution to our ills is debatable – although his advocates would make the pretty reasonable point that with him pottering around the midfield it is unlikely that we would go two games without a shot on target.

But aside from all that, what really caught the eye was the sight of him pinging corners and free-kicks about the place like a chap who’d been blessed with such ability since childhood.

Much has been made of the fact that three first-half corners were delivered pretty much on a sixpence to Toney at the far post. Anyone within earshot of AANP as these sailed over would have recoiled at the coarse and earthy language being gaily splashed around the place, such was my disgust at the complete abandonment of marking duties displayed by Sonny on these occasions, he evidently not being the sort for any of that enlightened thought or ingenuity I mentioned earlier (or even the plain common sense to spot the same thing happening and act upon it at the third time of asking).

However, the more charitable pundits about the place chose instead to focus their energies upon a spot of good old-fashioned sycophancy at Eriksen and his set-piece delivery, and I must admit that I did give it an eye. It was all the more remarkable to me, however, because one of the abiding memories of the chap’s final season in N17 was his bizarre inability to deliver a decent set-piece. It was quite the curiosity that so many of his corners would skim along the turf and straight to the first defender, incurring some early variations of that coarse and earthy language.

On Saturday, however, set-piece delivery appeared, once again, to have become his speciality, and it dashed well near enough sank us, leading to two rattles of the frame and one off-the-line clearance.

So much for Eriksen, and good luck to the honest fellow. As for our lot, one heck of an upturn is needed, and pronto, because this thing is slipping away. Strictly speaking it does remain in our hands – win all remaining fixtures, including the North London derby, and fourth is ours – but for any of the above to materialise, on-pitch matters need some pretty immediate and effective surgery.

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Spurs match reports

Spurs 5-1 Newcastle: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. Doherty

Having spent the last couple of years drooping his frame and acting like the whole football lark is a new one on him, in the last few weeks Matt Doherty has ripped off the mask to reveal that all along he was actually one of the better right wing-backs around.

It therefore seemed pretty cruel to react to the absence of Reguilon and Sessegnon by shoving him in at left wing-back. I mean, really. He’s only just found his feet, and now we jab a finger at him and say, “But can you do it on the left-hand side?”

On top of which, the re-jig meant that Emerson Royal and his mobile clown show was the custodian on the right. Moving our one decent wing-back to an alien position, in order to accommodate an infinitely less competent wing-back, seemed rather knuckle-headed thinking to me. As our heroes lined up at kick-off, I chewed a pretty nervous lip.

As it turned out, the one Johnnie completely unflustered by all this behind-the-scenes complexity was Doherty himself. These days it seems he wakes up each morning convinced he’s some distant relative of Pele, and not giving too many damns which flank he’s asked to patrol.

It actually works to Doherty’s advantage that he’s not really one for whipping in crosses all day and night. As far as Doherty is concerned, a wing-back’s job is to make himself available at various points up the flank, and indeed further infield, popping short passes to chums who fizz around nearby.

‘Interplay’ seems to be the anthem on Doherty’s lips, with ‘Whipped Crosses’ coming a long way down his list. And this being the case, it doesn’t really matter if he’s on his weaker foot, because even the weakest limb going will not stop a man adopting useful positions and dabbing handy five-yard passes that keep attacks healthily ticking along.

Our opening goal (the Ben Davies header) was a case in point. Naturally, much has been made of Sonny’s whipped cross for that goal, but rewind a good minute or so, and the corner was earned after Sonny went on the gallop from circa halfway to circa the six-yard box; and (stay with me here) rewind a further ten seconds or so and, crucially, this gallop would not have happened but for a perfectly-weighted, first-time, half-volleyed cushioned pass from Doherty.

For context, immediately prior to this, Romero and Lloris had been rolling the ball left and right to no real purpose, before the latter punted it upfield in the general direction of Doherty. Until then our entire game had been characterised by the absence of quick, forward-thinking distribution. Doherty’s first-time pass to Son admittedly did not look like much at the time, but I’d suggest that it was precisely the sort of injection of urgency we’d been begging for.

Admittedly I suppose we could keep on rewinding indefinitely, and count our lucky stars that the game kicked off at all, but having kept a pretty beady eye on Doherty and his left-sided escapades I clocked this one with approval.

As if to hammer home the point that being right-footed is neither here nor there if you tick all the other left wing-back boxes, Doherty then popped up with a goal at the far post, which is the sort of good habit to be encouraged in any wing-back, and even followed it up with some jiggery-pokery to set up Emerson to clown-shoe in our third.

2. Romero

Young Master Romero continues to raise his performance level drastically with each game, which by my reckoning means that he should become the best defender in the history of the game by approximately Easter Sunday.

When the match was long won, a four-goal lead established that even our lot couldn’t have messed up, I derived some entertainment from watching that Saint Maximin fellow scuttle away and perform step-overs and whatnot, looking for all the world like he possessed eight legs rather than the designated two. It generally required three in lilywhite to crowd him out on such occasions – except, however, when Romero sized him up.

There was a marvellous thrill in watching Romero trot over, cut through the bluster and fly into a challenge that pretty emphatically took ownership of the ball, whilst also uprooting young S-M and sending him a few feet into the atmosphere.

Simply to close the chapter on that violent note would, however, be to do Romero a grave injustice. The rattling challenges constitute only approximately 50% of the sketch. As has been noted with awe in recent weeks, part of the fellow’s magnetism lies in the fact that he also uses the ball with such good sense.

Romero tends to look for something fresh and spring-like when delivering a pass, as if to send the ball on its way with a message that he isn’t simply idling away the hours but genuinely believes that that act might be the start of something magnificent.

Which is not to suggest that every pass he plays scythes open the opposition: that is more the domain of rotter-in-chief, Harry Kane. Much of the time Romero’s passes are pretty gentle beasts – but they seem to me to have two critical points of delight.

Firstly, they are almost always forward, looking to advance the play by shifting the narrative from Defence to Midfield. Only in extreme circumstances does Romero go in for the rather negative business of bunging it back to the goalkeeper.  And secondly, they are generally very specific in nature, plastered all over with the name and whereabouts of the recipient, as opposed to simply being hoicked up the line with a fair amount of meat, for an unholy scrap to ensue between opposing members of the supporting cast.

It says much about the chap that when the ball rests at his size nines, rather than letting my eyes glaze over and contemplating the infinite, I crane the neck with a goodish amount of fevered anticipation.

3. Kane

I’m not sure whether Kane determines such things by poring over the data or simply tossing a coin, but this was evidently a day on which he decided that he would be Creator rather than Finisher, and after going through the motions a bit in the first half – like everyone else in lilywhite – he duly rolled up his sleeves and became unplayable thereafter.

I did wonder quite what the Newcastle tactical bods did with their time in the lead-up to this game, because Kane’s ability to drop deep and spray the ball wherever he damn well pleases is hardly an innovation. But as often as not when he picked up the ball around halfway, the Newcastle mob seemed to think he could be left to his own devices without causing any damage, seemingly oblivious to his ability to pick out teammates from just about anywhere on the pitch.

As ever there was some dreamy stuff, and the only shame was that he couldn’t be on the other end of his own passes. But I suppose that would be asking rather a lot, even for him, so we had to make do with him having the absolute time of his life in that withdrawn sort of role, orchestrating things like nobody’s business. In fact, by the end of proceedings he was starting to deliver no-look flicks and pings, which really are the hallmark of a chappie in his absolute prime.

Moreover, those around him started to pick up the rhythm of the thing too, realising that if Kane were in possession around them then they had better upgrade their own personal outputs. Thus it happened that Kulusevski started his dashes before Kane had even received the ball, and Emerson Royal – who in truth, rarely takes much convincing that he is a far better player than he actually is – began unleashing back-heeled passes and whatnot whenever his path crossed with Kane.

Of course, being a rotter, it is unclear quite how much longer Kane will remain a member of this particular parish, but while we’ve got him we might as well marvel at him.

4. Bentancur

Far fewer column inches will be devoted to young Master Bentancur. This strikes me as something of an injustice, for if column inches were to be dished out for artistry alone then Bentancur ought to have entire volumes written about him, as he both glides around the place and then typically picks a dickens of a useful forward pass, to chivvy things along and have the attackers snapping to it.

Even in that slightly moribund first half, when our heroes seemed to think that every pass required a detailed dossier of pros and cons before execution, Bentancur had the presence of mind to give the dashed thing swiftly, a hint rather lost on his colleagues.

This might not have been a day on which Bentancur’s passing brought obvious rewards – in terms of leading to goals and near-misses and the like – but with an egg like him taking possession of the thing in the middle third, life feels a lot less worrisome than it otherwise might.  

While Hojbjerg alongside him had one of his better days, I nevertheless remain impatient for the return of Skipp, and the unleashing of a double-act that promises to blow up the skirts of all onlookers. I rather fancy that Skipp’s energy would complement Bentancur’s smooth amblings around the place, and the overall effect would be ultimately to overwhelm all-comers.

5. Conte’s Attacking Substitution

On a final note, I was mightily impressed with Our Glorious Leader’s decision, in the final knockings, to replace Emerson with Bergwijn, and switch from a 3-5-2 to a 4-4-2 (terms I use loosely, given the fluidity of it all, but you get the gist). I was jolly surprised too, for the record, but mightily impressed nonetheless.

Lest we overlook the context, this change was made when we were already 4-1 up, so hardly the sort of situation that called for flinging on an extra attacking body. If anything, I would have expected the rather dispiriting if understandable sight of Davinson Sanchez tripping over his feet and into the fray, stage right, while Sonny or someone similarly attack-minded made the long walk around the perimeter.

Quite what the rationale was I cannot be sure, Conte still opting not to single out AANP for a quick tactical chat about this and that after the curtain falls. However, if the thinking was to press the foot on the accelerator and up the goal difference while opportunity knocked, then I think I might have to hastily rewrite the will and bequeath everything I own to this genius of a man.

It has long been a frustration of mine that when dishing out a hammering, and faced with an opponent desperately wanting to exit the premises and disappear up the motorway, rather than taking full advantage and peppering them with attack after remorseless attack as the clock winds down, our lot will too often stroke the ball around between themselves, as if content that their work is done. The concept of making a bit more hay while the sun is blazing down like the dickens appears lost on them.

All of which made the Emerson-Off-Bergwijn-On gambit yesterday even more pleasing. And you can probably picture AANP’s delight when the thing brought near-instant rewards, with Bergwijn bobbing along for his customary goal. As well as the entertainment value of dishing out a good thrashing, these things may also have some practical value come mid-May when the points are totted up. It was only a month ago that our goal difference was ten or so worse than the other lot; now we’re ahead by a nose. Long may the needless attacking substitutions continue.

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Spurs match reports

Middlesbrough 1-0 Spurs: Three Tottenham Talking Points

1. Conte’s Tactics

By and large AANP is not one go in for controversial opinions for the hell of it. ‘Live and let live’ is pretty much the anthem around these parts, leaving the stirring of hornets’ nests to those better suited.

So you can take it as a sign of how just deeply I was moved by last night’s rot that I’m willing to stick the neck out and chant an ode or two in opposition to Our Glorious Leader, a chap who’s generally been immune to criticism since donning the robes.

Now this is not to exonerate the eleven-plus on the pitch, who trotted around in half-hearted circles all night to no great effect. (Talking of which, if I hear one more player clear his throat and drone on about having to “learn lessons” and “do better” there’s a good chance that the next you hear of AANP he’ll have been arrested for murder.)

But even allowing for the doleful and half-hearted way in which our heroes went about their business last night, as if it were really a bit thick to ask them to play football for 90 minutes, I thought a decent chunk of the blame should be lobbed in the direction of Signor Conte.

Faced with a perfectly winnable fixture, against a side in a division below us for goodness’ sake, he seemed oddly convinced that Middlesbrough might pull off their masks and reveal themselves to be one of the great footballing superpowers of the modern age. As a result, the strict instruction was that we were to surrender possession, pull everyone back behind the ball and watch nervously, seemingly based on the principle that one never knew when our hosts might suddenly sit up and annihilate us. I suppose there is always that risk in any game of football, but it did seem to be an unnecessarily circumspect outlook.

One understands that in life one must exercise some level-headedness. It would be no good sticking ten forwards on the pitch and instructing them all to hare into the opposition area the whole time. Some common sense is key. And I suppose the A.C. Fan Club might point out that in the first half at least, the tactic could be said to have worked – Boro were kept at arm’s length, while our lot had the occasional sniff on the counter.

But nevertheless, watching on as our entire eleven camped behind the ball and held their breath, while our hosts ineffectively rolled the thing from side to side, I did think that we were laying on the caution a little too heavily. Without wanting to sound too outrageous, I wondered whether we might not adopt a slightly more adventurous spirit, by taking possession ourselves and keeping them penned back for a while.

Conte was having none of it however, and in the second half if anything the situation worsened, as any attacking sentiment remained well down the agenda, but our defence started to creak.

To his credit, Conte did briefly stick in his finger and give things a swish, rearranging from 3-4-3 to 4-4-1-1, for those who like to slap numbers on things. And while this – and specifically young Master Bergwijn – jolted our lot out of their slumbers and reminded them that they were actually allowed to attack, it also seemed to have the effect of removing whatever piece of frayed string was holding our defence together.

The ad hoc back-four struggled not so much with their new arrangement as with the very concepts of space and time. Ben Davies seemed not to realise that he was supposed to shuffle from centre-back to left-back; while  in Emerson Royal we have a blister who has spent his entire Tottenham career to date failing to master the basics of defending, so he was not about to right all his wrongs in the blink of an eye last night. Boro waltzed in amongst us whenever they pleased, and their goal felt as inevitable a progression as night following day.

As mentioned, none of those on the pitch (bar perhaps Bergwijn) seemed remotely concerned by the gravity of the episode, and as such they are all culpable here – but the nagging question at the heart of all this remains, viz. why on earth Conte set us up so passively in the first place.

2. Kane

Come the summer there’s a reasonable chance that that rotter Harry Kane will once again toss a toy from his pram and find some roundabout way to let it be known that, rather than stick around the place, he’d prefer to shove a few belongings in a rucksack and take off looking for shiny pots. But after last night’s guff, one element of this jars. It’s this business of Kane wanting to leave so as to win stuff.

On the face of it this is an understandable sentiment for any man of ambition. I have no truck with any fellow who would rather win a Cup Final than lose one. Dashed sensible way of going about things if you ask me.

But when Kane moans about it – or has his entourage leak a story to the press about it, which to be honest strikes me as not really playing the game – I butt in with an irate waggle of the forefinger.

The gist of my objection is that if Kane really wants to win a trophy so badly, then he can bally well go out there and win one. It’s not as if, come the biggest games, we omit him from the team and leave it up to everyone else to decide whether or not a medal will be hung around his neck. He is part of the set-up himself. In fact, he’s not just part of it, these days he’s the building block around which the whole damn set-up is constructed. This means that when it comes to winning trophies, the responsibility lies upon him more than anyone else about the place.

Were you or I to whinge that we wanted trophies, if nothing else everyone could agree that the whole thing is beyond our control. But for Kane, this business is very much within his control. One might say it’s his specialist subject. Winning trophies is precisely the thing he’s paid handsome sums to do.

So next time this pest has his minions issue a decree to the effect that he wants a medal and won’t stop whingeing until he gets one, I’ll direct his attention to the perfectly serviceable opportunity he passed up on last night. Supposedly in the form of his life, and up against a team from the division below, Kane reacted to the occasion by withdrawing into his shell in a manner that would attract admiring glances from nature’s most reticent tortoises, emerging only to stray occasionally offside and moan a bit about the opposition and ref, who will now have a goodish idea of what it feels like to be a Spurs fan reading the back pages in the summer.

A trophy has to be earned – which I suppose one might want to whisper if within earshot of the teachers on Sports Day – and frankly last night Kane missed the cut by some distance. If he therefore pipes up this summer, draped in a sense of entitlement, that he’d rather look elsewhere he’ll have a pretty meaty curse or two filling his ears from this quarter.

 3. Wing-Backs

As remarked earlier, this was not an occasion on which any of our lot will look back particularly fondly, I imagine. Kane and Son were oddly neutered, while anyone who rocked up in the breezy expectation of Winks and Hojbjerg providing any attacking vim was in for a pretty nasty shock.

In such situations, much depends upon the wing-backs to inject into proceedings some gaiety and spunk. After their triumphs of the weekend it seemed reasonable enough that Messrs Sessegnon and Doherty were again invited to go forth and do wondrous deeds, and in the early knockings it actually appeared that they might have some joy.

Sessegnon seemed game. One could admittedly fill a whole book with the various lessons he still has to learn, but he entered into the spirit of thing willingly enough and at least started the game looking like someone who knew that good things would come to those who pelted over halfway and up into the final third.

And on the right, having weighed up the options of parking himself north of the halfway line or south of it, Doherty seemed similarly convinced that more fun was to be had in attack. While not blessed with the same raw pace as Sessegnon, he nevertheless appeared to enjoy the licence to explore the attacking third.

It was a shame then, that when opportunity did finally present itself, in the form of near-enough an open goal, Doherty went down the ill-advised route of blasting the thing with gusto and violence. It was a poor choice. One could have told him straight away that what the situation demanded was a cool mind and steady hand – or, in this case, foot. Simply rolling the ball towards the target would have sufficed. Doherty instead seemed convince that the solution required rather more emphasis, and almost evacuated the ball from the ground.


This was undoubtedly a setback, but, ever the optimist, I nevertheless reasoned that simply having got himself into such a situation reflected well on the chap. It would be a stretch to say that he and Sessegnon dominated things, but they did at least offer regular attacking outlets. One got the sense, at least at the outset, that their souls were fired by the confidence of recent events.  

At that point, it seemed that not only did this pair represent our best hope of ingress on the night, but their advances also carried some symbolic weight. The success of Conte-ball does, after all, depend on the wing-backs, and these two appeared to be catching the gist of things.

Unfortunately, whatever hopes and dreams these two carried in their first half were pretty unceremoniously stamped into oblivion thereafter. Their fortunes collectively fell off a cliff in the second half. Both seemed to drift out of the game in search of amusement elsewhere, and Conte, presumably feeling that one ineffectual wing-back is as good as another, hooked both before the end.

All of which means that the wait for a trophy will now enter a fifteenth year, our inability to string two decent results together remains entrenched and it is a pretty even thing whether our players, managers or we the fans are enjoying this least.

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Chelsea 2-0 Spurs: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. The Formation

Starting at the beginning, Our Glorious Leader set tongues wagging like nobody’s business by penning a teamsheet that suggested he considered the road to success would be paved with six defenders.

Which was certainly eye-catching, but the more I thought about it the more I thought to myself, “Well, why not?” If a man wants to go about the place selecting more and more defenders, then let him. A tad peculiar, and not necessarily one of those fashions I envisage being adopted in every thriving metropolis, but good luck to him. It’s his prerogative after all, and moreover this particular chap has won shiny pots everywhere he’s been.

As it turned out, once events kicked in we did not after all set out with a back-six. In fact, some of us mere mortals watching from afar were having a devil of a time trying to work out quite what our formation was. And crucially, that confusion was not restricted to the viewing gallery, as various cast members seemed similarly unable to grasp the mysteries of the Tactics Board.

As my Spurs-supporting chum Mark pointed out early on in the production, at times it looked like Tanganga was playing at right wing-back and Doherty in a right-sided central midfield role. And while this was more of a temporary mirage, I did follow his thread, namely that a significant proportion of that aforementioned Defensive Six seemed not to strut around the place with the steady assurance of blighters who know exactly where they should and should not be at any given moment. Far from it.

I was particularly ill at ease with the fact that neither full-back appeared to have been informed that there were only two centre-backs inside them, rather than the usual three. Understandable of course, as every episode of Conte-ball to date has featured a back-three, but nevertheless. It was a bit ripe to think that neither full-back had been updated. You’d suppose that someone would have a friendly word in the ear.

But not so. Davies and particularly Tanganga appeared a little too willing to scamper up their respective flanks, and Messrs Sessegnon and Doherty, only too glad to have some company, scurried upfield with them. Nice to see them all enjoying themselves of course, but I couldn’t help chew a concerned lip each time it happened. To the notion of covering the vast yawning expanses left behind them, not a lick of thought appeared to be given.

As a result, in those early knockings we were treated to the unholy sight of Sanchez disappearing off to the left-back position like a moth to a flame, while Eric Dier, a man whose defensive reputation has been re-established in recent months largely on the back of shouting and not really having to move around too much, suddenly found himself having to scurry this way and that as if one man entrusted with the job of three.

Mercifully, in Lukaku Chelsea have one of those forwards who one might charitably say needs a little time for all the moving parts to function with any synchronicity, so we were spared any early embarrassment.

And then, in what should go down as a feather in the cap of Signor Conte, our lot gradually realised that the 4-4-2 expected of them was not in fact a riddle scrawled in a hitherto undiscovered dialect of hieroglyphics, but a fairly straightforward set-up.

And, once a small fire had been doused by the deployment of Hojbjerg as a seventh defender, I started to hum myself an upbeat little ditty, in celebration of the fact that from open play at least, we were nullifying Chelsea’s best efforts, and near enough cantering to half-time.

2. Disallowed Goal

And when Kane popped the ball into the bottom corner shortly before half-time, I half expected to see Conte stroking a white cat on his lap while letting out a maniacal laugh. The plan, it appeared, was working perfectly (if one overlooked those initial teething problems of the geographically-challenged full-backs).

But of course, this being Tottenham Hotspur, plans rarely work perfectly. Just when one thinks the plans are working perfectly, you can bet your last penny that either one dashed thing or another will appear from nowhere to cause a fresh headache. And in this instance it was the decision to disallow Kane’s goal.

Now regulars in this part of the world will now that the mantra hammered into me from my youth by my old man, AANP Senior, has been that the referee is always right. And having had the pleasure of watching today’s proceedings in the company of this same cheery soul, I was inclined to bite the lip rather than vent when the goal was disallowed. One knows one’s audience, and on this occasion I sensed that my complaints would meet with limited sympathy.

But AANP Senior does not go in for the words I pen on these pages (“I don’t understand a word you say” is the official reason given), so it is with freedom of indignation that I fling up my hands and howl into the night sky about that so-called foul.

One accepts, of course, that plenty of wiser minds than mine have taken one look at the incident and calmly adjudged it a transgression. Misguided stuff, of course, but one tolerates the views of one’s fellow man. One big happy family, and all that rot.

And similarly, one accepts that if Player A places a hand, palm first, on the back of Player B, and Player B collapses to earth as if hit by an RPG from a war-zone, then Player A runs the risk of a red line being drawn through all his fine work elsewhere. And there can be no doubt that Kane (Player A in the incident above, lest you were wondering) did indeed have his hand on the back of the dastardly Thiago.

But at this point I rather feel that the whole argument collapses – much like Thiago when receiving a gentle palm to the back – because consistency would dictate that every Palm-to-Back contact results in a foul. And if that were the case, then so be it, but we might all want to prepare ourselves for games in which fouls were given every thirty seconds.

I haven’t exactly studied these things academically, but I’m willing to suggest that every time two players convene to thrash out matters on the pitch, one will at some point place a delicate palm somewhere upon the frame of the other. And by today’s precedent, such villainy is not allowed. (One dare not even conceive what might happen every time a corner is gently drifted in, given the amount of palm-placement that seems to occur between the protagonists these days.)

You might argue that Chelsea’s superiority simply floated up to the top in the second half, and Spurs goal or not they would inevitably have bested us. And my lips are certainly sealed on the point of who was the better team. Not a murmur of complaint there. But dash it all, to disallow a goal for such a frivolous thing was just not cricket, and denied our lot the advantage that we had worked pretty hard to engineer.

3. Bergwijn

If you scoured these pages after the glorious finale at Leicester in midweek, and raised an eyebrow at the absence of mention for the undoubted hero of the piece, I can only assume you are even more bemused that I single out the same S. Bergwijn Esq. for praise after today’s game.

And yet, here we are. In the first half in particular, as the game settled into its pattern and Conte’s masterplan gradually began to emerge into view, young Bergwijn struck me as one of the most important cogs out there.

Sonny obviously pulls rank when it comes to such matters as providing the whirring blur of legs in support of Kane; and in the absence of Son it is now pretty well accepted that the honour falls to Lucas.

So for Bergwijn to get the nod over Lucas today was a call of some note from Our Glorious Leader. It was a plot thread that admittedly got somewhat buried beneath the outrage of Six Defender-Gate, but was nevertheless fairly hot stuff.

One saw the logic. The romantics in the audience would presumably not have had it any other way, after Bergwijn’s midweek exploits, and moreover the murmur from the inner sanctum seemed to be that Lucas had sustained some form of cracked fingernail that needed attending, thereby reducing his value as a starter.

But I don’t mind admitting to letting out – or do I mean taking in? – a sharp breath at seeing Bergwijn named as Principal Supporting Act in attack. In a game like this, and, frankly, after a Tottenham career like his, it was a decision not without a fair splash of risk.

As it turned out, I need not have worried. Bergwijn turned out to be the most potent weapon on the pitch, in the first half at least. Evidently willing to do all the running on Kane’s behalf, he enthusiastically popped up whenever we had the merest sniff of a counter-attack, marrying his pace and energy with a pretty impressive touch.

The general way of things meant that by and large we didn’t spend a great deal of time over halfway, but whenever we did sneak possession and hare into the Chelsea half, Bergwijn seemed to be the chap carrying the greatest threat.

Alas, the mood became a lot more sombre in the second half, as the Chelsea goals rather blew our counter-attacking plans out of the water. Bergwijn’s effectiveness duly diminished, but it was nevertheless good to see the chap indicate that his repertoire includes more than simply the role of Impact Substitute.

4. Sessegnon

In closing, a note on young Sessegnon.

While I can hardly claim to have been an expert on his Fulham days, one does of course hear rumours around the camp-fire, and the consensus on signing the young bean was that we had ourselves a decent young mucker. On top of which, the arrival of Conte and his cherished faith in wing-backs would have seemed to suggest that opportunity did not so much knock for Sessegnon as clatter through the door and proclaim that his moment had arrived.

In this context, I must admit to have let slip a few pretty underwhelmed sighs each time Sessegnon was called upon to clear his throat and bellow out a few show-tunes.

Early days of course, and one hopes he’ll have plenty of time and numerous opportunities to find his bearings and un-muddle his feet, but at the moment the blighter does not appear to have the faintest clue, at any given point in any given game, of whether he is coming or going. And I can’t think of anything that would hinder a chap more.

His tackling hits a sweet spot between being poorly-judged and poorly-timed; his passing appears errant; and I do not recall a successful dribble. More positively, he does appear the sort who likes a foot-race, and that’s an asset that ought to come in handy in weeks (and dare I say years) to come. At present, however, we appear to have on the pay-roll not so much an unpolished diamond as a lump of coal.

To repeat, one assumes that in time he will restore himself to the former glories on which his reputation was built. Today, however, as in most of his previous appearances this season, the poor fellow floundered somewhat.

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Spurs match reports

Spurs 2-1 West Ham: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Lloris

The lot of the goalkeeper is a pretty dreary and thankless one. Make a mistake and their reputation is up in flames; but do all that is asked of them and more, and come the end of the game they’ll still look up to see that the chap being hoisted on shoulders and having their name shouted into the night sky is the middling striker who spent most of the game dribbling into trouble and failing to hold up the ball.

And last night seemed a good case in point. I thought Monsieur Lloris was near enough faultless in just about every respect, but when I donned the robe and scanned the morning papers, the headlines led me to believe that this was a single-handed Bergwijn success. For all the coverage given to the goalkeeping, the uninformed amongst us might have inferred that this was one of those cup ties in which one from the conveyor belt of unremarkable reserves was shoved between the sticks.

If I have had a criticism of Lloris over the years it is that, while his shot-stopping is right up there with the best of them, when it comes to ambling forward from his line to wave his limbs and do decisive things – command the area, collect crosses and so forth – the venerable fellow’s powers seem not so much to wane as to fall off a cliff and disappear.

Yesterday, however, Lloris set about his business as if personally piqued by such stinging criticism, and determined to address it in no uncertain terms. Limited in imagination though West Ham may have been in the first half, they executed pretty well their tactic of relentlessly swinging in crosses and set-pieces. The effect was to spoon huge dollops of confusion all over our penalty area. In short, it was the sort of situation that called for a goalkeeper to roll up his sleeves, sharpen his elbows, wade through all-comers and take charge of events.

And where previously I’ve felt that Lloris has been all too easily bullied into the background in such situations, yesterday he flung himself into the midst of them like a slightly too well-oiled Englishman abroad. He grabbed and/or punched whenever the situation required, and, in particularly extreme circumstances, back-pedalled like the dickens to arch his back and fingertip the ball away from peril.

The furniture was rearranged a tad in the second half, when our heroes followed a worryingly Jose-esque strategy of sitting back and looking to hit on the counter (although to the extent that this generally reduced West Ham to little more than hopeful pops from the edge of the area, I suppose one could argue that it worked. It did few favours for the heart-rate, mind – we are most decidedly not a team built to defend a narrow lead).

The crosses were a little less threatening and majority of shots were straight at Lloris, but on the one occasion when a ball over the top seemed to out-fox our centre-backs, Lloris had the presence of mind to gallop off his line – again, a quality he has not typically demonstrated to have been in his armoury in recent years – and crisis was averted.

It has not gone unnoticed that the fellow’s contract is up next summer, and there has not been a whisper to date around the camp-fire about it being extended, which seems something of an oversight. However, Conte seems the sort of fellow who knows his eggs, so I would imagine that some sort of plan is being hatched to address this eventuality.

2. Bergwijn

As mentioned, many of the column inches were dedicated to young Master Bergwijn, and this is understandable enough, as we live in an era in which the principal currency is Goals and Assists. (A shame, for such statistics do little justice to the talents of deep-lying creative sorts like Carrick and Modric, but that’s a debate for another day).

Bergwijn began his game in exactly the manner one would expect of someone restored to the team for the first time in an age, and with the expectant eyes of the better half of North London focused upon him. He beavered willingly but nervously, and, with each unsuccessful dribble and charged down shot, seemed to be learning on the hoof one of life’s critical lessons, that things don’t really go according to plan.

However, when, around half an hour later, things did click for him, they did so pretty spectacularly. In the first place, he might want to send a particularly fruity Christmas present the way of Hojbjerg Towers. The Dane’s sprightliness to burst into the area, followed by his presence of mind to cut the ball back, were markedly more impressive than much that had gone before, and presented Bergwijn with about as straightforward a chance as one could hope for on one’s return to the fold.

And buoyed by this sudden turn of events, Bergwijn took it upon himself to turn temporarily into Lionel Messi, wriggling around opponents in the area before teeing up Lucas (who himself might consider his goal a neat reward for that glorious pass into Kane in the early exchanges).

While Bergwijn did not necessarily thereafter replicate such heady success, he did at least look a dashed sight more comfortable in his role, joining in the slick, half-turn counter-attacking interplay with gay aplomb, and generally giving the impression of one who, as required, would probably do an adequate job of deputising for either of Messrs Son or Lucas in a 3-4-3.

A success then, and I would also highlight that this practice, of making two changes to core personnel, whilst maintaining the spine who know each other’s’ games, seems a much better way of executing squad rotation than changing eight or nine at once and expecting them immediately to gel.

3. Doherty

The rarely-sighted Matt Doherty was the other key change, and it’s probably fair to say that his evening did not quite reach the heights achieved by Bergwijn.

Which is not to fault his willing. In fact, Doherty’s performance had much in common with the early knockings of the Dutchman, being similarly full of enthusiasm, coloured somewhat by nerves and generally resulting in things not quite going according to plan.

To his credit, Doherty seemed to follow instructions positionally. He happily provided attacking width and offered himself as an option on the right, whilst also having the energy to scuttle back when the defensive klaxon sounded.

It was just a slight shame that, to put it bluntly, his crossing wasn’t up to much. It was actually rather an eye-catching curiosity that most of his crosses seemed to be dragged back behind the waiting queue of penalty area snafflers, rather than whipped into their path. Needless to say, from the comfort of my viewing perch, I have never misplaced a cross so egregiously.

However, while his output might have been better, he at least adhered to the plan, and could hardly be accused of dereliction of duties. I would be interested to see how he might perform given a run of games, because there is little about Emerson Royal to suggest that the right wing-back slot is closed for business. And as Walker & Rose – and indeed Trent & Robertson – have shown, a cracking pair of wing-backs can absolutely transform a side.

4. Dier

Having been singled out by Our Glorious Leader a day earlier as having the potential to become the ‘best in the world’ in his position – a suggestion I can only presume was intended as motivational hyperbole rather than factual prediction – Eric Dier wasted little time in correcting any such wild and fanciful notions by reminding us all of some of the flaws in his DNA.

Now before I assassinate the chap’s character, I am happy to admit that his performances in recent weeks have been amongst the brightest of the whole troupe, in terms of positioning, organisation, concentration and distribution. Moreover, the limitations of his that have previously driven me to distraction (principally his lack of pace and late, lunging challenges) are well compensated for by the switch to the back-three.

Yesterday, however, he made rather a pig’s ear of things, in his role in the West Ham goal. In the first place, his pass out of defence was dreadful, and put us in one heck of a pickle. I can only imagine he was aiming for Kane, up near the halfway line, but to attempt this pass from within his six-yard box and along the ground was a risky idea at best, and the execution pretty ghastly.

All of which is a shame, because in general his long passing from the back has been a real asset in recent weeks, adding a useful string to our attacking bow.

However, such things happen. It was then all the more unfortunate that in attempting to rectify the situation by blocking Bowen’s shot, Dier lunged off into a different postcode as the ball was flicked from left foot to right. In fairness, I don’t really blame Dier for this, as it made sense for him to spread his limbs and attempt as wide a block as possible. It just looked rather silly.

Thereafter – and, in fact, beforehand – he seemed to do all that was required of him. In the first half he was in the midst of the aerial carnage, and in the second he played his part in restricting West Ham to the more speculative stuff from the edge of the area, and then extending the necessary appendages to block said stuff. Talk of being the world’s best does still make raise an AANP eyebrow or three, and as a unit the back-three still strike me as slightly cumbersome, but they withstood the pressure last night, and Dier’s latest renaissance continues to inch along.

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Spurs match reports

Rennes 2-2 Spurs: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Ndombele

Oddly enough, in the midst of yet another thoroughly toothless lilywhite showing we actually had one pretty eye-catching individual performance; and even oddlier, that performance was delivered by young Monsieur Ndombele. I don’t know much about his childhood, but I would guess that in his school reports the gist of the feedback from his teachers would be along the lines of ‘Gifted, but doesn’t always apply himself’.

But by golly that gifted streak was on show yesterday, in full technicolour. It would be a stretch – and in fact a plain untruth – to say that he covered every blade of grass and bossed proceedings, but that never has been the instruction on the side of his particular tin. Instead, his gifts manifested themselves in the form of absolute wizardry pretty much every time he had the ball at his feet.

During the early knockings, when we mistakenly chalked this up as a walk in the park, Ndombele seemed central to all that was good about us, not least in carrying the ball ten yards from central to attacking locations, casually dispensing of opponents as if playthings. It appeared to be the sort of attacking spark for which our mob have been crying out in recent games, and Rennes couldn’t fathom it.

His contribution to the opening goal has been well documented, and even thereafter, when all around him seemed to realise that rather than a stroll in the sun this was actually a fight to the death, and one they were losing, Ndombele continued casually to befuddle the nearest Rennes opponent with his every touch, seemingly oblivious to the fact that the tide had turned and disaster loomed. Remarkably, every time he received the ball he seemed to carry on like this was some sort of exhibition match in which fleet-footed trickery was a legal requirement. It was pretty sensational stuff.

Whether or not he can do this regularly, and indeed how he might be accommodated in the first place, are questions for another day. For now, it is simply pleasing to note that after another thoroughly underwhelming production we were at least able to give tongue to some rarely-used compliments about Ndombele.

2. Lucas

The current whacky trend amongst our heroes is to hobble off injured at the earliest opportunity, and Messrs Bergwijn and Lucas duly filed their entries yesterday, with all the accompanying winces and limps on show.

About Bergwijn I am relatively indifferent, truth be told. Being the sort of armchair fan who prefers my wide attackers shiny, with plenty of dribbles, crosses and goals, I am yet to warm to the chap terrifically. His injury I therefore acknowledge as unfortunate, and so on and so forth, but once out of AANP sight he’s pretty definitely out of AANP’s mind.

Far more galling was the sight of Lucas succumbing to whatever fatal blow it was. While in previous seasons I must confess to having been unconvinced, this time around he has been delivering the goods by the bucketload. His dribbles have been suitably mazy, and unlike in previous seasons, rather than simply waltzing around in a small circle and hitting a brick wall, this time around he seems to waltz past hacking limbs before delivering a sensible conclusion to the whole adventure.

It is produce all the more bewitching given the amount of risk-free nonsense being peddled by those around him. With Sonny still AWOL and the boy Gil seemingly considered too green for the rigours of the English game, the stage seemed well set for Lucas – and he appeared to have been delivering.

His injury therefore elicited a pretty fruity curse or two from this quarter. A swift recovery is to be firmly wished.

3. Kane

While Lucas seems to have fallen back in love with the game, and Ndombele – well, it’s anyone’s guess what goes on in between those two particular ears – that rotter Harry Kane now lopes about the place with the air of an aggrieved teenager.

I can’t help wondering if he would steam around the pitch with greater vim if the white shirt had on its breast three lions rather than one cockerel, but I suppose it’s difficult to gauge and probably harsh to opine. Still, while one appreciates there is little he can do when all and sundry are tying themselves in midfield knots rather than simply giving him some service, his body language is nevertheless that of a man who would rather be elsewhere. Which rather chimes with his close-season interviews, what?

This attitude is all the more galling when one considers that he has now overtaken the great S. Perryman Esquire as our European appearance record-holder. It’s an honour that ought to be held by someone who wants to wear the shirt, dash it.

On a more practical note, this rot of him swanning around in midfield has to stop. The back-to-goal first-time flick to set up our opener was a joy to behold, straight out of the Teddy Sheringham playbook; but an occasional venture a few steps south to dink one cheeky pass is one thing; taking up residence in midfield and trying his best Pirlo impressions are another. “Stay up front, laddie”, would be the anthem in his ears from AANP Towers.

4. Nuno’s Masterplan

This was a pretty difficult game to summarise in a single, pithy statement. I know because I tried – my old man, AANP Senior, presumably deciding that, having cut his teeth on the double-winners, the Europa Conference was beneath him. I suspect he is now clearer on events now, having been fully briefed by yours truly.

If the raison d’etre of momentum is to swing, it put its heart and soul into the job in yesterday’s game. Whereas the first twenty or so had much of the cakewalk about it, when Rennes decided to up the ante they did so with such relentless gusto that our lot simply could not cope. This storm having been briefly weathered thereafter, Rennes seemed in the second half to decide that being the dominant force suited them, and I for one had rather given the thing up as a lost cause when Hojbjerg spared our blushes.

Credit where due then, but trying to fathom Our Glorious Leader’s tactics did make the head swim a bit, particularly in the context of previous games. Having approached the Palace game – as league leaders, lest we forget – with three defensive midfielders, I can only assume that Nuno was approached by an angel in a dream, such was the extreme nature of his swerve to yesterday’s tactic, of a single holding midfielder and everyone else with radar set to attack.

His hand was rather forced, admittedly, by injuries, but at present much about our weekly setup suggests that the Brains Trust has not quite yet got to grips with the squad at their disposal. This is hardly to chide the honest fellow, mind, for he’s only been there five minutes.

Moreover, in truth, rather than a settled formation, I’d prefer us to have a default attitude, preferably that shown in our opening day win over City – and not a million miles from that shown by Rennes when they went behind yesterday, for it was an absolute force of nature.

Finally, as a valedictory note, a congratulatory word to the Rennes support, who, for reasons that I must confess baffle me, sounded absolutely nuts throughout.

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Spurs match reports

Palace 3-0 Spurs: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. Lack of Effort

When one casts the mind back to the opening game of the season, in which we put in effort by the bucketload against Man City of all people, chasing down every loose ball like the fate of the free world depended on it and then haring off on breakneck counter-attacks, one does rather scratch the bean at the limp fare on offer yesterday.

One accepts defeat – even a 3-0 defeat – if the troops have fought tooth and nail, and simply come up against a mob that have fought toothier and nailier; or indeed, one takes it on the chin when a good fight has been fought and matters have been settled by a spot of magic, or even a dodgy refereeing decision.

But it really wasn’t cricket to watch our lot give it ten minutes and then take to ambling hither and thither, each with that distracted air, as if they one-by-one-realised that a more pressing engagement awaited elsewhere, and this pesky football lark was little more than an inconvenience.

I’m not sure that too many of lilywhite persuasion were getting particularly carried away by the fact that we began the day as league leaders, but even with the Expectations dial sensibly turned to a level somewhere between ‘Middling’ and ‘Low’ I think it was reasonable enough to have expected our chosen few to have least feigned interest in proceedings.

If the rallying pre-match battle cry against City had been about lung-busting determination to thunder into the faces of opponents, one can only assume that the final instructions ahead of kick-off yesterday was more along the lines of an anaemic shrug, because the notion of pressing the opposition seemed a long way down the various To-Do lists. Early on in proceedings, Hojbjerg offered a glimpse of what might be, when his high press helped pickpocket possession and created a chance that he then duly bungled – but nobody else took the hint, and Palace were left to knock the ball around between themselves in undisturbed fashion.

In possession things were just as miserable. Those in lilywhite appeared to consider it beneath them to motor around finding space and offering options for the man in possession. When opportunities for vaguely progressive passing did present themselves, they were firmly rejected, which seemed a pretty bizarre strategy.

Winks and Skipp were amongst the most prominent offenders here, seeming already to have decided to ostracise the new chap, Emerson Royal, by pointedly avoiding passes in his orbit, no matter how much space he tiptoed into. Whatever the question, the Winks-Skipp answer seemed to be ‘Sideways or Backwards’, which certainly tested the patience.

There seemed to be a plan of sorts to look for Reguilon on the left, but it was effected with such little enthusiasm that instead of passing directly to the poor soul the ball was generally just wafted into his postcode, leaving him to battle against the odds.

Even when eleven vs eleven I counted just the one burst of one-touch activity in the whole dashed match, the sort of move that had the ball whizzed around nice and promptly, shifting us the pitch faster than the Palace lot could scurry back. And frankly, one rather thought that if our heroes could only raise themselves for that single, thirty-second exhibition of passable football, then they rather deserved a three-nil hiding.

2. Absences

The absence of half a dozen regular cast members was trumpeted beforehand, and made a handy narrative, but here at AANP Towers we have a keen eye for detail, and it can’t have been much more than twenty-four hours before a few flaws in this story were detected. Admittedly, and in his defence, Nuno did not turn on the waterworks over this, and instead simply got on with life, but nevertheless it’s worth addressing this issue.

From the initial heady list of Sanchez, Romero, Sessegnon, Lo Celso, Bergwijn and Sonny, one could flick through and start discounting suspects, as it were.

Sessegnon, for starters, is rarely spotted anywhere near the first eleven, so dragging his name into things is pretty disingenuous stuff.

Until approximately three weeks ago, the absence of Sanchez, while not necessarily eliciting cheers would hardly have been lamented; while Romero is yet to feature in the league. Now admittedly, the absence of either of these fine specimens would ordinarily have been manageable, being countered by the presence of the other, as it were. The absence of both, therefore, admittedly created a mild quandary; but truth be told, if this were a world utterly bereft of Davinson Sanchezes I’d have no problem with that void being filled by Joe Rodon.

Further up the pitch, the absence of Lo Celso, as with Sessegnon, was hardly critical, meaning that the only real issue was up in attack, where both Sonny and Bergwijn had doctors’ notes to hand. As with Sanchez and Romero, the absence of one of this pair might have been covered by the presence of the other, but missing both did rather change the dynamic of the attack.

And here one might waggle a stern eyebrow in the direction of Our Glorious Leader, for when one has a perfectly serviceably Bryan Gil waiting in the wings, the decision to shove Dele into the ill-fitting role of pacy forward chappie seemed a tad misguided. (Not to mention that Dele’s removal from the midfield three also left us with a pretty functional and bland combo in the mid-section, of Hojbjerg, Skipp and Winks.)

So in truth, from the list of six, the only real challenge came around the two in attack – and could in itself have been countered through the deployment of young Gil. Hardly a justification for the dirge on show yesterday.

Where we were a tad unlucky was in the early exit of Dier. As mentioned, being a fan of Rodon I had no problem with his introduction yesterday, and actually lauded the move; but the fact that Tanganga had also to be shifted into central defence was a shame, for while Emerson Royal made a decent fist of things against Zaha, his was hardly a comfortable afternoon. It was a duel I’d have preferred had featured Tanganga.

3. Kane: Help or Hindrance?

As an aside, while touching on the subject of the front three, and the absences of Sonny and Bergwijn, this might be the moment for a rather awkward conversation about Harry Kane.

Carefully and deliberately leaving aside personal opinions about whether the absolute rotter should be welcomed back into the fold with open arms after having had the gall to try worming his way out of a contract without making a transfer request, several of my acquaintance have started to question whether the chap’s very presence is hindering operations; and they may have a point.

Referring again to the win against City, and indeed to various brighter moments the following week against Wolves, much of what was good about us in an attacking sense derived from the ability of Son, Bergwijn and Lucas to motor up the pitch as soon as possession was swiped, creating three-on-three situations that played out not just in real time but seemingly in fast-forward, the whole thing a blur of whizzing legs and interchanging positions.

However, remove one of the aforementioned three, plop in Kane, and the machinery doesn’t operate with half as much pace. In short, Kane slows down those counters, either by virtue of not whirring the little legs as quickly, or simply by deciding to take up residence about thirty yards further south. (Yesterday he seemed to offer neither, which was all the more odd.)

The AANP opinion has not yet been cast on this matter, and there seems more to it than just Kane (as mentioned, poor passing of the parcel from midfield to attacking full-backs didn’t help) – but with sterner tests awaiting, the optimal utilisation of that rotter Kane and his myriad talents cannot happen fast enough.

4. Lucas

Unusually in a performance of such ineptitude, there were actually a couple of presentable individual turns in amongst the dross.

Lucas, who can consider himself particularly unlucky to have been hooked for that rotter Kane last time out, was, not for the first time this season, particularly full of beans.

The young bean has never been averse to grabbing possession, putting his head down and wriggling like the dickens away from all-comers, but to this thoroughly agreeable trait he also appears to have now added a half-decent end-product, typically sensible distribution of the thing. In fact, one can imagine that in other teams (Exhibit A, Palace with Zaha) a chap of his ilk and predilections might be the sort around whom the team is built; but we being Tottenham he’ll presumably be back on the bench next week.

It was a joy to behold though, and, one imagines, a nightmare against which to defend.

5. Rodon

And in closing, an earnest salute in the direction of young Master Rodon. Quite why he is fourth cab on the centre-back rank is a mite baffling, given that those in front are hardly of the lineage of Moore, Beckenbauer and King; but fourth cab he is, and seemingly for use strictly in emergencies only.

However, he demonstrated a decent enough grasp of the basics when called upon last season; he seemed to do the necessaries for Wales during the Euros; and yesterday, if he put a foot wrong at all, I’m not sure I noticed it.

Actually, he and Tanganga both impressed, and it was just a dashed shame that the latter rather got carried away by things (although by the letter of the law Zaha should have been off himself, having tickled Tanganga’s face with a front paw at least thrice by my reckoning). While we were pretty woeful going forward, and the midfield was doing little to stem the flow of things in the second half, the centre backs were at least standing up to the challenge until the red card. Further outings for Rodon – and given the state of the various scattered centre-backs at the club, these seem inevitable – would be no bad thing.

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Spurs match reports

Spurs 1 – 0 Man City: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Tanganga

There were a few ripe efforts out there today, with lungs being busted left, right and centre by those in lilywhite, but if J. Tanganga were to be presented with the gong for Standout Chappie De Jour, I suspect that any, few dissenting murmurs would be drowned out by pretty rapturous applause.

The key to this one seemed to be not only to stack up the young bean’s numbers (tackles won, crosses blocked, displays of upper-body strength executed and so forth – by each of which metric I suspect he delivered chart-topping stuff); but also to take into account the identities of those against whom he was pitting his wits.

I suspect even the most confident and capable amongst us might baulk a bit if turning up to the office and being informed by The Man that the day’s duties involved going toe-to-toe against first Raheem Sterling, and then Jack Grealish, and then quite possibly also both of them at once. And that baulking might have had an encore when informed, on enquiring as to the levels of assistance available for the gig, that help would primarily be delivered in the form of Davinson Sanchez, a chap whose most memorable contribution against these opponents involved being outfoxed to such an extent that he was left prostrate and face-down in the turf.

(Although in the interest of fairness let The Book of Such Things show that Sanchez put in a jolly impressive shift, both at his official sentry post in the centre, and when shuttling across to add his tuppence worth to the anti-Sterling/Grealish campaign.)

But to return to Tanganga. His delivery of defensive duties was not necessarily flawless, involving as it did a liberal sprinkling of manoeuvres deemed illegal by those who oversee such things. However, the fouls that were conceded in a strange way seemed to contribute to the sense that here was a fellow not about to shirk his duties. Quite the opposite in fact, for they were fouls that stemmed from full cylinders of enthusiasm and strength, rather than desperation or inadequacy.

From opening pips to his late withdrawal, Tanganga harassed and bustled away at his more illustrious foes, at least matching them and typically besting them; and even when they did wriggle free, one sensed that they were unlikely to look back upon their engagements with our man with any particular fondness.

All the more pleasing given that the last time he was sighted on official duty it was in the sorry state of being stretchered out of the arena, with his leg in a brace and an expression that told of one whizzing through various of the seven stages of grief.

2. Lucas

If there were to be any arguments against the crowning of Tanganga as today’s standout, one imagines that the principal case would be made in favour of Lucas Moura.

Few amongst us have ever failed to recognise that Lucas has been generously blessed by Mother Nature with a capacity to get his head down and mazily weave his way through oncoming traffic. The challenge seems to have been in harnessing that ability to generate optimal results for both the individual and the team. In short, I suppose, all too often, those mazy dribbles have tended to fizzle out into possession squandered and a tumble to terra firma.

Today however, as seemingly in pre-season, the stationing of Lucas as a trusted member of a swift attacking triumvirate, alongside the similarly fleet-footed Son and Bergwijn, seemed to bring out the best in the chap.

Neatly brushing under the carpet, to be dissected another day, the question of how one H. Kane Esquire would fit into a team whose main attacking thrust is built upon pace, it was a most pleasing surprise to witness Lucas delivering that of which we have known him capable, and for which we have yearned, pretty much since the day he arrived on the N17 doorstep.

Nor was his performance was solely one of direct runs at rather panicked defenders. His twinkling toes were also put to good use in winning possession, winning fouls and clipping lay-offs to nearby chums. Lucas was quite happy to do the hard work as required, as well as enjoying the more glamorous side of the game allowed by charging over halfway in a three-on-three.

As a side note, this dedicated, pace-based attacking system, bringing the best out of certainly Lucas and Bergwijn, did make me wonder whether the dearly-departed Lamela might have had a role to play in Nuno’s brave new world; but that particular king is dead, and here, presumably is where we wish long life to the newest king, Bryan Gil.

3. Skipp

This particular book having closed with a happy ending, all is now, naturally enough, sweetness and light, but in the early knockings AANP was observing proceedings with the customary pained grimace and unhealthily heightened pulse, and was paying particular attention to one of our number.

Much of the summer weeks at AANP Towers have been spent in robust and at times pretty fruity dialogue with others of lilywhite persuasion, specifically debating the merits or otherwise of young Master Skipp. The thrust of these particular back-and-forths has generally been that while others have championed playing the young nib, I thought it best to give him another season at Norwich (where by all accounts he was the absolute toast of the town last time out).

The AANP rationale here, was that while he had indubitably proved to all observers that he was a stripling who could excel in the Championship, I was far from convinced that similar glory awaited in the top flight, and therefore though that we might as well gauge his suitability for Premier League life by watching how he got on once again at Norwich. This would have both the benefit of testing his ability whilst also avoiding any risk that the illustrious Spurs midfield would suffer, were he to be found out of his depth.

As it happened, Our latest Glorious Leader, was evidently convinced of Skipp’s ability, and into the starting eleven he duly rumbled.

The opening thrusts did not actually bode terrifically well. Within the first five minutes Skipp had been caught in possession and also conceded a free-kick in a pretty dangerous spot, due to what appeared to be the general failing of not being quite at the races.

Thereafter however, and to his credit, if he put many feet wrong he disguised it well, because few in lilywhite better advertised the general theme of the day, of getting stuck right into the meat of things.

Pre-season has confirmed that Skipp has a handy pass or two in his locker, for lighter occasions; but today, understandably enough given the vaunted opposition, his mantra when in possession seemed to be “Safety first”, and it was a sound decision.

More impressive and eye-catching today was the earnest lad’s willingness to launch into any tackle with heart, soul and just about all his body-weight. If there were an opportunity to challenge a City man for the ball, Skipp did not hold back on the gusto, and while City’s undoubted quality in final third ball-pinging can often be difficult to contain, he was evidently damned if he were going to let any of their number simply skip through the centre.

Watching Skipp charge into an opponent, pick himself up and charge into the next opponent also prompted the exciting notion that against some of the lesser teams we face, there might be scope for him to sit back, manning the gates as it were, and allow one P-E Hojbjerg to head off further up the field, as he did to surprisingly good effect for Denmark during the Euros.

4. General Approach

Tet for all the individual honours, perhaps what was most pleasing was the general mentality of those in lilywhite (and, indeed, green). This was no smash and grab victory in the style of certain managers of our history, the sort that would feature all eleven camped in and around our own area attempting to snatch a goal and then repel a siege for eighty-plus minutes.

While naturally pretty circumspect, after the testing opening quarter hour and particularly in the second half our lot looked to attack where possible, notably avoiding the option of sitting back to defend the lead once established.

The mentality appeared to be to fight for the ball, by pressing opponents and approaching tackles with the philosophy that nothing less than full-blooded would suffice. Indeed, when the dust settles, that spirit of determination to win the ball in fifty-fifty challenges might be what lingers longest in the memory, all the more so for being frankly the polar opposite of what we’ve come to expect of our lot.

Credit here should go to Our Glorious Leader, for the fitness levels displayed were impressive. We may have benefitted from various cast members having a summer free from international responsibilities, and I also wonder if the choice of Woolwich as our final pre-season opponents was of particular benefit, in sharpening a few reactions.

On top of all of which, as pointed out by my Spurs-supporting chum Dave, the general philosophy of tempting fate by trying to pass out from the back, when woefully ill-equipped to do so, has seemingly been replaced by the infinitely wiser approach of shifting the ball to the quicker players and letting them make merry.

There will no doubt be tougher days ahead, but this was an absolute triumph, and, most pleasingly, one richly-deserved.

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Spurs match reports

Wolfsberger 1-4 Tottenham: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Bale

The Gareth Bale Saga, what? With its assorted triumphs and disasters it’s already been a fairly exhausting ride, which seems to have much about it of the seven stages of grief, with each passing game swinging us wildly between hope and despair. For those struggling to keep up, yesterday’s input ranked amongst the more positive variety, and accordingly wild and fanciful expectations have shot through the roof and off into the horizon.

It’s probably best to get the caveats out of the way early. Wolfsberg, or Wolfsberger, or Pellets, or whatever the hell they were called were pretty game going forward, but seemed only to tick the boxes marked ‘Defence’ because they absolutely had to under UEFA regulations, and consequently offered little in the way of resistance once our heroes began motoring.

This was best summed up by the comedy villain sent sliding into a different postcode by Bale immediately preceding his goal. The chap had much about him of ‘Henchman Number 3’ in one of the old Bond films, his purpose seeming solely to appear on screen in order to wave some ineffectual limbs before being obligingly hurled aside by our hero.

There was much to admire about the artistic direction of that particular scene. That combination of Bale’s speed on the run, balance on the turn and then vicious whip on the shot lent itself to some pretty dreamy aesthetics, the sort of thing that could not have looked better if it had been the product of hours of choreography.

But as well as the splendid entertainment of the goal itself, the fact that this was a glimpse of Peak Bale, for the first time since his return, was what really got the masses chattering.

As has been pretty well documented, the chap has underwhelmed in recent months. No need to dwell on the unfortunate particulars, but suffice to say his most significant contributions have been a couple of headers delivered with feet planted pretty solidly on terra firma, as if to indicate his reluctance to exert himself any more than is absolutely necessary.

If one squinted, and added a pretty generous narrative, one could just about discern the occasional glimpse of a man of talent, but in truth these moments were no more spectacular than any of those provided occasionally by the least celebrated squad members. Even Moussa Sissoko or Steven Bergwijn occasionally sidesteps an opponent; to laud Bale for doing likewise once every few games was straw-clutching at its finest.

So to see the chap raise himself to the heights that are the preserve of only a fairly elite group of players certainly got the heart fluttering. Sissoko or Bergwijn do not and cannot and never will score a goal like Bale’s last night. And I don’t mind admitting that I had resigned myself to never seeing such output again from the man himself.

But if, for whatever reason – be it fitness, or confidence, or simply a whim-based shrug of the shoulders in which the young folk seem to delight – Bale has rediscovered something of that alchemist’s touch of yore, suddenly we might have a potent third appendage to the Kane-Sonny axis.

2. Dele

Sunny optimism clearly comes in twos, because just as we all began happily speculating about the longer-term meaning of Bale’s goal and assist (not sure he contributed an awful lot else, mind, but beggars and choosers and all that) we were treated to a few party tricks from young D. Alli Esq., which suggested that here was a man who considered his affairs to be in order.

Dele, as is well known, loves a nutmeg, and I suppose we should guard against getting too carried away on the basis of one such specimen, delicious in its execution though it was.

But for the purposes of a duly diligent reality check it is probably worth nothing that there was a decent stack of other impressive output from the man.

In possession, a lot of the old swagger had returned. This can actually tend to be a source of considerable frustration, as he often seems to derive ideas above his station and refuse to part with the ball as a result, holding onto it far too long and sapping momentum from our attacks. Yesterday, however, the need for urgency seemed impressed upon him, and he generally combined his trademark love of the elaborate with a good appreciation of the need to chivvy things along.

Moreover, off the ball he seemed perfectly happy to make a generous contribution to the collective act of The High Press. Again, worth noting that these were obliging opponents, but it’s the only fare Dele gets these days, so he may as well make the most of it.

With Ndombele now seemingly entrusted to the deeper-lying role, and Lo Celso still poorly, opportunity potentially knocks for Dele in the Number 10 spot, and a couple more eye-catching flourishes in the Europa would do him no harm.

3. Vincius: Offering Value of Sorts

The curious egg that is Carlos Vinicius was given his traditional airing yesterday, and duly continued to leave us all a little undecided as to whether it was best to castigate or sympathise with him.

The answer, of course, lies in between the two extremes. Passing judgement with moderation is something of a forgotten art in these days of non-stop and ubiquitous news coverage, but there might be value in taking this approach with Vinicius and simply appreciating both what he offers and his limitations.

In the Credit column, his mere existence allows us such luxuries as the complete resting of Harry Kane. I distinctly remember tearing out great big clumps of hair in midweek Cup matches of years gone by, at the fact that we were forced to deploy Kane in pretty meaningless matches, simply because we had nobody else in the squad worthy of the description “Striker”. Kane, of course, never dissented – quite the opposite in fact, the eyes of the honest fellow tended to light up when he realised easy goals were to be had – but that’s not the point. Wheel him out for every game and he will eventually break; so having a Vinicius in the squad affords him and Sonny some respite and saved energies for tougher tests.

On top of which, while Vinicius does have his limitations as an all-round centre-forward, it was good to see him show something of the Lineker about him yesterday in poaching his goal. It’s something of a dying art, but one for which AANP reserves a special place in the affections.

That snaffle aside, Vinicius did not offer a great deal, which seems to point to a couple of causal factors. On the one hand he has plenty of room for improvement. He might have been more alert to pounce when Bale had a shot parried, and he might have used the ball more wisely when it did come his way.

But on t’other hand, this is not the sort of creature who will drop deep a la Kane, or spend his afternoons working the channels. Vinicius comes across as the type who would like a few testing balls to whirl around the penalty area, either along the ground or otherwise, and if his chums are not donating to the cause it leaves him pretty unemployed for sizeable chunks.

4. Lloris

I rather reluctantly offer a mention to Monsieur Lloris, primarily because justice demands as much.

In recent games he has dropped such howlers that one wondered if he were doing so deliberately, but more salutary habits were on display yesterday, with the one-handed first half save, from close range, a particular highlight.

So, having jostled to the front of the queue to pelt the chap with rotten fruit over the last couple of games, the AANP Code of Honour has seen to it that I now similarly commend him for his efforts yesterday.

Elsewhere, the combination of Dier’s poor pass and Sissoko’s poor control contributed to another pretty careless penalty, but in general this was a fair result, and given our recent struggles, against both capable and weaker opponents, it was pretty welcome stuff.

Categories
Spurs match reports

Spurs 2-0 West Brom: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Lamela

It’s a rummy thing about life, and also a pretty essential cornerstone of democratic civilization, that two souls seeing exactly the same thing will draw vastly different opinions of it. With that in mind I appreciate that the view over here might not necessarily be universally shared, but I rather fancied that Erik Lamela deserves to have the rosette for being Star Performer pinned to his blazer today.

There were actually quite a few contenders, which is a rare treat, but I thought that from the off Lamela did much to set the tone. There may well be occasions on which Lamela adopts a cautious approach to life, taking a back seat and allowing himself a good half hour to get a sense of how events are playing out before getting involved; but this occasion was not one of those occasions. Instead, picking up where he had left off in midweek, he began proceedings with the air of a man pretty determined to get things done pronto.

Whenever a chum had the ball Lamela seemed to be on the move. Where in previous weeks whichever man were in possession would look up to find that all his friends had deserted him, today every time we had the ball – which was most of the time – a quick glance gave evidence of a nearby little blur of white, which on more considered inspection typically transpired to be Lamela scuttling into frame and pleading his case for involvement.

It proved a popular approach, for Lucas was in similarly supportive mood. The net result was a range of options for whomever was in possession, a treat the like of which in recent weeks has seemed a thing of wild fantasy. As a neat consequence there was variety to our attacking play, and chances came along at a pretty healthy lick.

In previous weeks the supporting roles to Son and Kane have been provided by Bergwijn, who is typically preoccupied with marking an opponent, and Ndombele, whose myriad talents could not truthfully be said to number amongst them ‘Limitless Energy’. The contributions of Lamela and Lucas therefore, simply off-the-ball and in providing options, made a massive impact.

It’s almost an afterthought, but when in possession too they performed handily enough, Lucas in particular seeming to delight in the opportunity to indulge in a few playground-esque wriggles around as many opponents as he could draw in.

2. Hojbjerg’s Passing

On the subject of the Star Performer rosette, what I believe in the trade is known as “An Honourable Mention” ought to be made for the ever-impressive P-E Hojbjerg.

So far, so AANP, I hear you mumble; but in the sort of plot-twist that typically happens around p. 195 and is greeted by gasps of disbelief, in this case the plaudits for Hojbjerg are not so much for the role of indefatigable caretaker (although it should be said that his caretaking was of the usual efficient and no-nonsense ilk) but instead for his surprisingly impressive forward-passing range.

This, I confess, took me by surprise. The point of stationing Ndombele in the deep-lying midfield role alongside Hojbjerg seemed to me to have been that the latter would roll up his sleeves and fly through the muck, precisely in order that the former might receive possession and pick out killer passes.

Instead, while Ndombele seemed often to wander off in the directionless manner one sometimes sees traced by snails along the ground – you know the sort, meandering around and back on themselves, with no clear end-point in evidence – Hojbjerg seemed to take it upon himself to combine the rolls of muck-flying and killer-passing. And he did the latter in particular with aplomb.

I recall he had shown in the game away to Man Utd a surprising knack for the weighted pass inside the full-back, a routine looked upon with particular fondness here at AANP Towers, and he was at it here again, sliding in Aurier deliciously in the first half.

Much has been made of the well-spotted and equally well-weighted pass to set up Kane’s opener, but it ought not to be overlooked that immediately prior to that he set the whole routine in motion by playing another ball inside the opposing full-back to pick out Ben Davies, in a mini-acre of space on the left wing. Ben Davies, being Ben Davies, took the blandest option available and wandered infield to little effect before giving the ball back to Hojbjerg, and from there the goal was duly assisted.

However, even Homer occasionally nods, and at one point Hojbjerg made a pig’s ear of things by allowing himself to be caught in possession and a West Brom counter-attack to magic itself out of nothing.

(But as it turned even this was drizzled in stardust, as the resulting passage of play saw West Brom pile men forward, only for our lot to pinch possession and set off on the counter-attack for our second. One is tempted to suggest that Hojbjerg, in his infinite wisdom, deliberately lost possession in order to draw out West Brom for the counter-attack – but this is maybe a little too fanciful.)

3. Kane

Inevitably, where there is a discussion of Star Performer rosettes, one need not wait too long before the distinctive brogue of Harry Kane is making itself heard, and in his understated – and at times, headline-grabbing – manner he was at it again today.

His radar was actually decidedly shonky in the early portions, but that particular wrong was righted in good time, and his equalling of Bobby Smith’s mark as our second highest scorer ever gave a handy moment for reflection on quite how magnificent he is.

However, as is often the case these days, his goal amounts almost to an afterthought, because it was the overall Kane display that got the juices flowing here. The whole game was, of course, a completely different kettle of fish from the Chelsea debacle in midweek, but nevertheless the contrast between Vinicius against Chelsea and Kane today could not have been much starker.

Where Vinicius was honest but limited as a fairly static and ineffective target man, Kane bobbed and weaved about the place, dropping deep as often as he headed to the uppermost point in the formation.

Naturally enough, West Brom were pretty spectacularly out of their depth when it came to handling him, and while they went through all the correct and official motions it was basically to little effect, because these days Kane just does what he wants and there is precious little that most defences can do to contain him.

The chest-off to Lucas for our second goal was a particular highlight, and the interplay with Lamela, Lucas, Son and, slightly oddly, Ben Davies, in the first half in particular, brought a bit of fun back into our football.

4. Jose’s Redeeming Tactics

All things considered I’m not sure this could have been more satisfactory if specifically hand-picked from a catalogue of such things.

Having wasted no opportunity to deliver both barrels at Out Glorious Leader in recent weeks for the style (was there ever a greater misnomer?) he has cultivated to such ghastly effect, it is only fair to give a faint but meaningful nod of the head towards him today for making such tweaks as were necessary, to both personnel and positioning of personnel. Even before kick-off, the teamsheet alone had an uplifting whiff about it.

Aside from the return to arms of Kane, which to the amateur sleuths amongst us wasn’t really as much of a shock as the BT commentator seemed to have it, in selecting his team Jose appeared to have set out with the express intention to win back some of the favour lost at AANP Towers in recent weeks.

Now if you don’t mind, at this point I’ll take a minute to delve into the technicalities, so by all means feel free to disappear elsewhere for a few minutes, and pick up again at the next paragraph. Essentially, by shoving Sissoko out of the picture, dragging Ndombele back into a deeper role alongside Hojbjerg, where once Sissoko had stood, and giving Lamela the freedom of N17 in the more advanced midfield role – where once Ndombele had stood – the whole setup looked infinitely better balanced than in previous weeks.

For whatever reason, and despite possessing many of the necessary attributes for the role, Ndombele is rarely at the peak of his powers when granted the dream role of Number 10. Instead his many talents seem better evidenced when getting stuck into the action from a deeper starting point, and particularly when excused of too many defensive duties, so his delegation in the deeper role today made good sense. Oddly enough, despite the tailor-made platform, his performance ended up being slightly muted, but it mattered little given that the eyes of everyone else on show fairly lit up from the off.

Admittedly one had to take certain accommodating circumstances into account, not least the fact that this was a West Brom team seemingly determined to be even more like Jose’s Tottenham than Jose’s Tottenham, taking every opportunity to sit back and defend their own area until they fell behind. To have set up in the face of this with the usual back-six would have been a bit thick even by Jose’s standards. Nevertheless, we showed precious little attacking intent recently against a similarly lowly Fulham, so the more progressive tweaks in personnel and position were very welcome today – even if the cynic inside me does suspect a return to drearier ways in upcoming fixtures.