All Action, No Plot

Tottenham Hotspur – latest news, opinion, reports, previews, transfers, gossip, rants… from one bewildered fan
"AANP - nobody knows what it means, but it's provocative."

Liverpool – Spurs Preview: Rightly or Wrongly It’s Sunny Optimism Round These Parts…

‘Arry has been banging on about the triffic opportunity tonight’s game presents, and he has a point – for without Gerrard and Torres that lot suffer from a lack of both confidence and quality; while clean sheets a-plenty have underpinned some pretty decent recent performances from our heroes. Off the top of my head I can’t actually remember the last time we ever won in the League at Anfield, but having caught snatches of their game against Reading in the Cup last week the place looks more like a wendy-house than a fortress at the moment. As a cautionary note, it is worth bearing in mind that while they are supposedly enduring a nightmare season, they are still only four points behind us. Unfortunately then it is unlikely that they will roll over and let us tickle their tummies (quite a mental image) but a spirit of blisteringly sunny optimism has nevertheless made itself at home in AANP Towers ahead of this one.All sorts of wholesome goodness would flow from a win today. Beating the “top four” teams (admittedly it’s debatable whether the definition of this term still includes Liverpool) is rare enough for our heroes; beating them on their own patch has been, as far as I’m aware, strictly beyond the laws of science. Turning over Liverpool at Anfield would give us renewed belief that we can make the Champs League spots – in much the same way as the opening-day win did in fact. Straying slightly from the point, many of the best chants of the season seem to have been directed at Liverpool, from “You’re supposed to be in jail”, to “You’re just a fat Spanish waiter.” And in more pragmatic terms, a win tonight would open up a seven-point gap over Liverpool, as well as three points over City and five over Villa. Game in hand for our rivals? The way this season has panned out I’d much rather have points on the board.

Strangely, after the frustrations of Hull at home on Saturday I’m even more convinced that we can win tonight. Liverpool, particularly at home, are not going to stick every man and his dog behind the ball and defend for their lives, a hilarious fall from grace though that would be. They will push forward, and leave gaps behind them. A shame then that Lennon is injured, and to a lesser extent a shame that Hudd too is possibly crocked, but the match pattern ought still to suit us relatively well. The absence of Hudd will be an interesting one – in this neck of the woods we’re quite partial to a good old-fashioned whinge about the lad and his immobility, but absence often makes the heart grow fonder, so I’m intrigued to see whether we are obviously weakened (or indeed strengthened) without him. This could be a rare start for Jenas, or possibly even O’ Hara, while a mischievous rumour doing the rounds suggests that tonight might be Ledley’s monthly appearance in lilywhite. Whatever the line-up, it’s an upbeat AANP marching into battle tonight.

 

AANP’s first book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes, comes out on 16 Feb and is now available to pre-order from WHSmith, Amazon , TescoWaterstones and Play 

You can become a Facebook fan of Spurs’ Cult Heroes and AANP here, follow on Twitter here 

And as ever, all are most welcome to leave memories – and browse those of others – regarding some of the players to be featured in Spurs’ Cult Heroes: Danny Blanchflower here, Dave Mackay here, Cliff Jones here, Martin Chivers here, Alan Gilzean here, Pat Jennings here, Cyril Knowles here, Steve Perryman here, Glenn Hoddle here, Chris Waddle here, Ossie and Ricky here, Gary Mabbutt here, Graham Roberts here, Jimmy Greaves here, Clive Allen here, Jürgen Klinsmann here, David Ginola here, Paul Gascoigne here

Spurs-Stoke Preview: A Chance To Pay Tribute To Bill Nick

Believe it or not, win this by four goals and we’ll be top of the table, albeit until Chelski conclude their evening game. Try informing your nearest Spurs-supporting chum of this fact, and the chances are that you will be greeted with little more than a nod of approval and a healthy dose of perspective. Along with our consistency to date, the general realism of fans this season has been just as startling. We are all aware that we could be on the brink of something very, very good; but equally, there seems to be a healthy realisation that we remain a work in progress. That said, we’ll all be demanding three points today.Crouch Get His Chance

 

Crouch was snapped hurling down some slightly awkward-looking shapes after last Saturday’s game, and although the media did their best to sensationalise the “story” beyond all reasonable sense of perspective, they soon tired of that, particularly as ‘Arry treated it with little more than a shrug. I suspect it’s not what the continental players do, while rugby players apparently spend their post-match hours indulging in such unholy practices as sitting in ice-baths for reparatory purposes. Nevertheless, there seems no harm in a cheery night out with team-mates, a full week before the next game. Certainly the patrons of AANP Towers are in no position to judge a man who spends his Saturday nights on a London boogie floor…

Squad Depth. Ruddy Marvellous.

Woodgate should be back in the team today, for the first time this season. While Liverpool whinge about losing Gerrard and Torres (both of whom featured in their defeat at the Lane on the opening day of the season) it is a sign of the strength of our squad that despite the absences of Woodgate all season, Modric for half the season, and the likes of Ledley, Palacios, Dawson and Defoe at various points, we are deservedly in the top four.

So, aside from three points obviously, what would AANP like to see transpire from its lofty perch?

1. A Four-Goal Win To Take Us To The Top Of  The Premiership

Being top in August is fun but inane; being top when the clocks go back is, frankly, fantastic. ‘Tis true, ‘Arry would be unbearably smug if it transpires that he takes us from bottom to top in exactly a year, but I’d still give my right arm to see it happen.

2. Goals From Woodgate and Dawson

 

3. A Clean Sheet

 

4. A Blinder From Jenas/Hudd

 

5. A Tribute To The Great Bill Nicholson

 

I am sure the fans will pay tribute to him today, it is to be hoped that the club does likewise in some official capacity – and how fitting it would be if we could end the game sitting proudly atop the table once more, as Bill Nicholson took us as both player and manager.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As ever, all are

most welcome to leave memories – and browse those of others – regarding some of the players to be featured in forthcoming book Spurs’ Cult Heroes: Dave Mackay here, Cliff Jones here, Glenn Hoddle here, Chris Waddle here, Ossie and Ricky here, Gary Mabbutt here, Graham Roberts here, Jimmy Greaves here, Clive Allen here, Jurgen Klinsmann hereYou can become a Facebook fan of Spurs’ Cult Heroes and AANP here, or follow on Twitter here.

 

Spurs 2-1 Liverpool: Bassong Gets The Headline, But Back-Slaps All Round

Cracking stuff. Good performances all round, three well-deserved points in the bag, lots of wholesome goodness to report – all in all a most pleasant jamboree in the sun.Top Marks For Hunger and Intent 

As it transpired, this was more Liverpool’s approach. No such problems amongst those in lilywhite-with-urine-yellow-streaks. From the off we interchanged sparkle and bite at the appropriate moments, with sergeant Wilson inevitably harrier-in-chief, but even the Hudd diving into tackles with a bit of purpose.

Being a prophet of doom by trade, I then spent the 15 minute half-time interval convincing myself that Liverpool would come flying out of the second-half traps, and we would sit deeper and deeper to protect the lead. Again however, no such worries on this count, as we just about picked up where we had left off in the first half, with plenty of attacking intent. Even when we conceded the equaliser there was no self-pitying capitulation, as we’ve all seen from Spurs teams over the years in similar situations. The endeavour and determined mentality continued. They looked like a bunch of players who wanted the win, and were prepared to work for it. How refreshing. I rather hope that it’s not just a big-match mentality, but that we adopt the same approach for Hull away on Weds night. However, that is a worry for another day. Now is a time to toast a success.

The Back-Slap Roll-Call 

And so on. But back-slaps are lacking in scandal, so I’ll instead invent shift attention to meatier topics. It was a big day for the Hudd, getting the nod in central midfield in the absence of Jenas, and he put in a decent shift. The haters may suggest that once again he did not boss the game as we hope he one day will, and that he does not have enough energy for the role, but he did a good job today, up against tricky opposition. No laziness or shirking of the tackle, no sir-ee. Again, the haters will suggest that anyone could look adequate alongside Palacios, but be that as it may, the AANP verdict is that today Hudd deserves a nod of approval and a doughnut.

Bassong was another one under the microscope today, but seemed to say and do all the right things. No particularly scary moments, he did what was required (and then some – lovely headed goal). Not the finished article, but encouraging stuff – a turn of phrase which could probably be applied to the team as a whole. While Gomes erred in conceding the penalty, he ought not to have been put in that position by a midfield/defence that allowed Johnson to skip into the area a mite too easily. However, it is to the team’s credit that Gomes did not have too much else to do.

The Keane-Defoe Thing. Again. 

Merrily enough however, as it turned out we got away with them today. Liverpool’s errant pre-match shooting session, in which they peppered the Park Lane, continued during the game with Torres missing a couple of late half-chances to equalise. Benitez has been stomping his feet about the late penalty shouts, but a draw would have been harsh on Spurs, who were the better side, while Liverpool’s star man was arguably their ‘keeper Reina.

Triffic 

 

Spurs’ Cult Heroes – Your Memories of Jurgen Klinsmann
Jurgen Klinsmann is one of the players featuring in Spurs’ Cult Heroes, a forthcoming book looking at players who achieved legendary status amongst us fans for what they did at the club. As well as looking at the players’ Tottenham careers it will feature anecdotes and reminiscences – and this week we at AANP want to hear your memories of Klinsmann, from both on and off the pitch. Get involved here

Spurs – Liverpool Preview: TOP FOUR! TOP FOUR!

The deluded pre-season optimism of Spurs fans is a quintessential part of the British summer, up there alongside heroic failure at Wimbledon and an English batting collapse. Like moths to a flame we just can’t seem to help ourselves banging on each summer about making the top four.

Typically the wafer-thin bases for this argument are a fairly unnecessary spending spree; rampant (but entirely irrelevant) pre-season form; and the rather unscientific assumption, more commonly found in six year-olds, that if you repeat a lie often enough you can start to believe that it’s actually true!!! The backdrop to all of this wretched, blind insistence of imminent glory is the sound of breathless snuffling, as fans of all other English clubs – plus that French lot from Woolwich – roll around the aisles doubled up with laughter, and waiting for the inevitable.

Smart Thinking From ‘Arry

All a bit different this time round, however.

I have generally been a touch reluctant to lavish praise upon our heroic leader, but am quietly impressed with the way ‘Arry has gone about methodically dampening pre-season expectations at every opportunity. For a start, talk of breaking the top four has been pretty taboo. The company line has generally been that that the top six is possible, albeit tricky. Admittedly one or two of the players have deviated slightly from this (Peter Crouch being a case in point – but as his interviews are so full of bland, soulless clichés I doubt that he believes – or is even aware of – a word he says in front of the cameras). Generally, expectations are being kept tightly in check, and it makes a pleasant change. In public at least, top six is the goal (even if, by virtue simply of being Spurs fans, we all secretly believe at this time of the year that we will hit the top four).

The summer’s transfer policy has also been curiously sensible. Naughton, Crouch, Bassong – none are particularly glamorous, or even necessarily improvements upon what we already have. However, these signings suggest that there is an obvious policy in place, of strengthening the squad and improving competition for places. These buys are a far cry from the eye-catching but slightly unfathomable big-money buys of recent years (Bent and Bentley, I’m looking at you two). Moreover, unlike in recent years, we have managed to retain the services of our key players. Where we failed to hang on to Carrick, Berba and Keane, this time it seems certain that we will have another full season of Modders and Palacios. The sale of Zokora ought not to be mourned, for this is a squad evolving in a positive, progressive manner.

Even our pre-season form, usually so misleadingly irresistible, has had a few blips. Out-played by Barca, and beaten by Celtic and South China – not results which will have the slightest bearing on our Premiership form, but again handy in putting a lid on expectations, at a time when we will normally use any excuse to yelp “Top Four” in the middle of conversation.

The Official AANP Line

So where does this leave us? Aiming for the top six seems fair. It’s not a given, as Everton, Villa and Man City are probably all wittering away similar sentiments in scouse, brum and manc. However, failure to finish higher than two of these three would be pretty disappointing, and could well signal a cheery “adios” from Modders and/or Palacios. Best not contemplate that just yet.

Fourth, for the sake of argument? Having lost a key centre-back and striker there’s a case to be made for l’Arse struggling to hold on to fourth, but frankly I don’t want to put myself through the trauma of trumpeting about how this will be our season, and then watching in horror as Two Points Eight Games, or something similar, unfolds. Sixth, if not better. It’s ‘Arry’s line, and, until the new year at least, it’s the AANP line.

A Tricky One First Up

Liverpool is a tricky one first up. Until they sold Xabi Alonso they were actually the AANP tip for the title, and even without him will still be strong challengers. That scouse lad in the middle. The Spanish chap upfront. Still, they are probably furrowing their brows even as I type, and musing “Tottenham away is a tricky one first up…”

There are reasons for a sensible, cautious optimism at the Lane. We have retained the nucleus of the side which finished last season fairly strongly, Bassong is not actually suspended after all and Defoe has looked absolutely razor-sharp in recent weeks. Plus, you’d expect Modric to make mincemeat of their new £17 million (!) right-back, one Glen Johnson.

However it pans out though, I’m just delighted to have proper football back again, and a massive clash at the Lane to kick things off. Mouth-watering stuff.

Spurs’ Cult Heroes – Your Memories of Jurgen Klinsmann
Jurgen Klinsmann is one of the players featuring in
Spurs’ Cult Heroes, a forthcoming book looking at players who achieved legendary status amongst us fans for what they did at the club. As well as looking at the players’ Tottenham careers it will feature anecdotes and reminiscences – and this week we at AANP want to hear your memories of Klinsmann, from both on and off the pitch. Get involved here

 

England 2-1 Ukraine: If It Ain’t Broke…

It wasn’t particularly broke, it didn’t need fixing. Curious then that Fabio suddenly came over all Norman Bates, picked up an axe and started swinging wildly until something was indeed broken.Lennon was doing a decent job on the right. He had not set the world alight, but there was always a threat, a bit of a buzz, whenever he got the ball and ran at his man. “Menacing” might be the word I’m after. That part in a horror film where the delectable and scantily clad young jezebel finds herself on her own in a dark house – you get the feeling something worth watching is about to happen, even though it might be a red herring.

Lennon on the right offered a genuine attacking threat, balancing (albeit asymmetrically) the Cole-Barry-Gerrard-Rooney combo from the left. At least, that’s how it was in the first half. The withdrawal of Lennon ten mins into the second half robbed England of their only pacy outlet, and coincided with the drop from “urgent” to “perfunctory”.

The introduction of Beckham ought to imply a general shoring up of things, with the game in the bag and 15 mins to go. Instead he was brought on with only a one-goal lead and 35 mins to play. Beckham didn’t get within 30 yards of the Ukraine by-line.

However, Beckham did provide the cross for the winner, which is basically his raison d’être in the team these days, and is something Lennon generally can’t do (certainly not from deep). So was Fabio right after all to withdraw Lennon? The case in his defence – Beckham’s assist – has been made; the prosecution argues that his introduction of Wright-Phillips once Ukraine had equalised indicates that Capello recognised the need for pace missing since Lennon’s withdrawal.

I guess the conclusion is that the whole bally lot of them rather lost urgency in the second half, and the replacement of Lennon with Beckham was a contributory factor – but, when it was needed, Beckham offered an attacking threat, albeit in a vastly different way from Lennon.

The Rest of Them

Elsewhere, it’s broken-record time, as Gerrard’s performance for country was again patently less impressive than his typical displays for club (which is the cue for all Liverpool fans to create life-size models of All-Action-No-Plot Towers and then burn them down in incandescence). Gerrard remains a square peg in a round hole for England. He is most effective behind the front man; but this would negate Rooney, who in a different sort of way is also most effective behind the front man. The bar ain’t big enough for the two of them.

Gerrard on the left is fine against Slovakia, but one wonders if he’ll be quite as effective on the left in the latter stages of a World Cup. Personally I’d go with J. Cole left, and Gerrard-Barry in the centre, with Gerrard having more licence to attack than Lampard currently does. The whole business of Lampard playing a more “disciplined” – i.e. defensive – role had me flailing my arms and muttering in frustration all night.

My man-crush on Rooney continues, but that darned red mist enveloped him once again.

James – calamity.

Ashley Cole – strangely beset by an identity crisis that had him thoroughly clueless as to his nationality, with the result that he spent most of the game passing to Ukrainians. Someone dig out the boy’s passport and talk him through it.

Terry – good assist, and smartly-taken goal, but reckless in conceding the free-kick for their goal. Oh that Ledley’s knee was healthy.

Crouch’s goal was also smartly-taken, but the celebrations for both goals were rubbish. Crouch at least had the decency to look thoroughly embarrassed by whatever the hell he was doing. The Terry-Rooney routine was as appalling as it was perplexing.

However, the bright and breezy take on the game is that we were excellent in the first half, patient and dangerous; and when we absolutely had to raise our game in the second half we did. Three points is all-important in qualifying. If/when we make the World Cup Finals, no-one will care about that dodgy half 30 mins in the second half vs Ukraine in April.

England – Ukraine Preview: JT, Rooney and Darren Bent’s Confidence

For all the well-deserved plaudits, we didn’t learn much about England on Saturday. Rather reminded me of a wedding rehearsal – polite, happy, didn’t count for anything. Slovakia played like footballing eunuchs and were duly thrashed at a canter.Ukraine, and their occasionally-preceding definite article, ought to prove a slightly different kettle of fish – but only slightly. Fifa’s curious ranking system has Ukraine within the top 20, and it is worth noting that, like England, they made the World Cup quarter finals in 2006. Shevchenko and chums are no mugs then – but this is the sort of straight-faced diplomacy trotted out by the players, in those excruciatingly bland pre-match press conferences sprinkled with phrases like “We won’t be underestimating them… No easy games at international level…”

Cutting through the blandness, and Fabio’s England, on the back of some perky form and with a team brimming full of Champions League connoisseurs, certainly ought to beat Ukraine at home. It’s unlikely to be quite as merry a cakewalk as on Saturday, but we still ought to win. While our position five points clear of Croatia gives us some margin for error, it would be better to have that in hand for the trip to Kiev, or visit of Croatia to Wembley. Ukraine at home is not really the time to slip up.

John Terry

After the maternal members of the Terry family tried their hands at shoplifiting last week, there seemed grounds to suggest that at the weekend the family brain cell was being used by the England captain. This argument was promptly shot down at Wembley when JT ensured that a certain Crouch goal was disallowed for offside, by tapping in from one yard, when the ball was already past the ‘keeper and heading for the net. Better it happens in a friendly, I guess, but hardly the most impressive display of tactical acumen. Looks like Rio will be back to partner him on Wednesday.

Roooo-ney, Roooo-ney 

A propos Rooney, the news that Crouch has recovered from injury suggests that Wednesday will see the beanpole up top, with the human gargoyle in that scrumptious position just off the main striker. Nods of approval at AANP Towers. Presumably Gerrard will continue on the left, where he did a good job on Saturday. The link-up play between him and Rooney has inevitably attracted plenty of praise, but he’s nevertheless a square peg in a round hole out there, and a better team then Slovakia (a fairly wide-ranging criterion admittedly) could expose both his right-footedness and defensive lapses. However, it seems this is his home for now, so he might as well bed in and make himself comfy.

The injuries to Heskey, Carlton Cole and Crouch led to some speculation over who would be called up. Michael Owen and Kevin Davies were the names being bandied around. In those kits I wouldn’t have been surprised to see Terry Thomas make an appearance. As it happened our very own Darren Bent got the nod.

The Darren Bent Confidence-O-Meter 

Sat 7 March – Recalled to the Spurs starting XI against Sunderland, the dial on Bent’s Confidence-O-Meter stirs into life and hits 4 out of 10. However, a trademark Bent miss high into the north-east sky, sees the dial return to rock bottom, with our hero considering packing it all in.

Sun 15 March – Bent keeps his place in the starting XI for Villa, and the dial pings upwards again. His sensational two-inch tap-in sees the dial go right off the scale. Winning goal! Victory at Villa! The man is a hero – at least inside his own head – and his confidence has never been so high!

Weds 18March – Forgets to take the bin out for collection. Confidence begins to slump.

Sat 21 March – Retains his place in the starting XI, for visit of Chelski, and all is right with the world again. To his credit he worked his hoopy socks off, and contributed worthily to another fine win. These happy thoughts have the Confidence-O-Meter right up at level 10. However, every time he remembers that he didn’t actually score, it drops down several levels – such is the brittle existence of a “confidence player”. Just stay positive Dazza!

Sunday 29 March – The Bent Confidence-O-Meter explodes irreparably after Fabio calls him up for international duty, following injuries to the first 18 strikers on the list.

So it’s a good day to be Darren Bent. Or at least it was until he did his knee in training and Fabio called up Agbonlahor. Crouch and Rooney will start up front for England, and if things are going to plan I’d imagine Fabio will replace a striker with a midfielder in the closing stages, which will mean precious little action for either Bent of Agbonlahor.

Milestones for Terry and Beckham 

On a final and belated note, AANP Towers politely and sincerely applauds Terry on winning his 50th cap, and similarly lauds Beckham on his 109th. One suspects that this newly-set record for outfield appearances will itself be surpassed soon enough – the modern-day international calendar seeing to it that the Ukraine game is Rooney’s 50th for England, at age 23. Nevertheless, while subtly steering clear of any sort of debate over his selection, I suggest that, whatever his off-pitch shenanigans, Beckham’s attitude in an England shirt always seems to be one of fierce and honest commitment. If all goes to plan more applause will be ringing out on Wednesday night.

England 4-0 Slovakia: On-Pitch Fluffiness, Off-Pitch Soap Opera

A virulent strain of man-flu left me stuck in AANP Towers, and unable to venture out in search of the curious GCSE Media project that is Setanta. 5Live and ITV highlights for me – the extended exposure to 5Live’s Alan Green robbing me of much of the will to live – so my take on the game, tactically wanting at the best of times, is about as meaty as a vegan’s lunch-box today.I had hoped for the challenge of a decent period of parity, to give England a bit of a test of patience and creativity. The early goal duly robbed the game of much purpose, although it’s one for the Wembley crowd to tell disbelieving grandchildren several decades hence, having been netted by Heskey. The eventual 4-0 scoreline suggests that the Slovaks obediently fulfilled their roles of sacrificial lambs without demur.

Some fluffy and inane thoughts to pass the time, based purely on the noises that came from my radio:

 

·         There is a concern that the Upson-Terry central defensive pairing has a lack of pace that would be punished by better teams (a penny for Ledley’s thoughts).

·         A bizarre, Darren Anderton-themed game of musical chairs amongst the strikers saw about twenty of them trot on, get injured and trot straight off. I’m cleaning my boots in anticipation of a call-up to the squad for Wednesday. As is Kevin Davies, according to the good folk of the BBC. Distressingly, only one of these statements is made in jest. (Hot off the press –  well, luke-warm – is the news that big bad Dazza Bent is to transfer that hurt, confused, hands-half-raised-to-head look from club to country, having been summoned by the Don. Cripes. Another penny please, this time for Michael Owen’s thoughts.)

·         The question of whether to build the team around Gerrard or Rooney seems to have replaced the question of whether to pick Gerrard or Lampard.

·         Lennon, apparently, was ok (and, mercifully, withdrawn without injury). However, there was something approaching consensus on the view that Beckham’s crossing gives him the edge, even if Lennon gets the nod on Wednesday.

Fairly bland, satisfactory and meaningless then, as anticipated by all and sundry. More entertainingly, away from the lumpy Wembley turf there had been an increasingly farcical air about the England soap opera over the last day or two, conjuring up images of poorly-scripted day-time TV soap operas.

·         Bewilderingly, both the mother and mother-in-law of John Terry found themselves in trouble with Her Majesty’s finest, for shop-lifting. The mind boggles. It’s like a caption competition without a picture.

·         After much fanfare the new, £50(!) England shirt was unveiled. Presumably intended to hark back to the days of Lofthouse et al, it looks rather like the design brief was assigned to an eight year-old, who quickly became distracted and forgot to complete it. It certainly evokes memories of Tottenham – both Spurs’ plain white shirt of last season, and the PE uniform I wore as a nipper in the playground on the High Road, just opposite White Hart Lane. Neither here nor there I guess, but it does aggrieve me to think that someone somewhere is minted on the back of designing that.

·         The tête-a-tête between Fabio and ‘Arry simmers on, although now less Rocky vs Apollo Creed, and more schoolgirls spreading gossip about each other. Fabio raised the point that there was no objection to the call-up of Alan Hutton to the Scotland squad, after several months out, as there had reportedly been to Ledley’s selection. Possibly a mistake on the Italian’s part, as the circumstances are different. The Ledley objection revolves around his recovery time, as a strictly once-a-week player; Hutton is more straightforwardly just back from a one-off, non-recurrent injury.


So all a bit surreal, but pleasing enough. Things should at least pick up as the more serious business of the qualifier vs Ukraine approaches, followed by the Premiership programme next weekend. Bon weekend, one and all.

England – Slovakia Preview: Pleat on The European Parliament, Gerrard on The Left

A friendly against some generic Eastern European country will make for a pretty underwhelming Saturday evening. Slovakia, as with Slovenia, Estonia, Belarus and the rest of them, never has contributed anything to football, and probably never will. No-one can name a famous Slovakian player, they will all have rubbish haircuts and are basically the international equivalent of Bolton or someone. It’s likely to be tedious and eminently forgettable – yet is probably a smart choice on the part of the FA bigwigs, given that next week the players all have to make diplomatic noises about the qualifier against Ukraine.Actually, Slovakia might be half-decent, having once been part of a country with healthy footballing pedigree – Czechoslovakia (still part of them in fact, within the strange alternate universe that is David Pleat’s head, where there exists “the republic of Czechoslovakia”. Get that man his own seat in the European Parliament, and watch as history is rewritten.) However, it’s a long-shot. Slovakia might be have some talent, but the likelihood is that this will quickly descend into the archetypal big-boys-vs-lower-league fare.

Personally I quite hope that the game remains nil-nil well after the first half hour, and into the second half. If Slovakia stick eleven men behind the ball, and play the role of untalented spoilers an Rooney-baiters, they will provide a useful test of England’s patience and creativity. By contrast a couple of early goals would draw out the Slovaks, create space and lead to a rout – we would learn nothing. A long barren stalemate will at least give England the experience of breaking down stubborn opponents. With England cruising atop the group, the only potential obstacle to World Cup qualification is likely to be rubbish Eastern Europeans slamming the ball to halfway and inviting us to go again.

Mind you, failure to score an early goal against Absurdistan would probably have the Wembley crowd laying eggs and bottling one another. It’s probably just a minority, but I can honesty say I’ve never heard such a shamefully abusive and impatient bunch. Nevertheless, at the risk of enraging the Neanderthalic Massive, I’m hoping for a dour, goalless start to the game.

Gerrard On The Left 

Injury to the fantastic Joe Cole has again provided a handy escape route from the Lampard-Gerrard problem. Gerrard is fist-clenchingly annoying, but I can’t deny that he’s been awesome in that role behind the striker(s) this season. It seems a right waste to shunt him out left, even though our own wonderful Luka has demonstrated that this need not be a hindrance to a creative genius.

I hope that once Cole is fit again he assumes the left-hand berth, and Gerrard replaces Lamps as the attacking central midfielder. Cole has consistently been excellent for England on the left, provides balance and width, despite being right-footed, and is the only player capable of dribbling past his man.

Lampard is no mug, but just is not as good as Gerrard. If it comes to a straight choice between the two, I hope Capello opts for the scouser (as he think he has previously done on occasion). Lampard would certainly be an excellent player to have coming off the bench.

As mentioned, I’m hardly pushing to be secretary of the Steve Gerrard Fan Cub. Top player, but like that other squeaking irritant, Jamie Carragher, he seems far more concerned about his club than country. Like Carragher, I imagine he would have little hesitation in chucking in the international game if it dawned on him that he did not have a divine right to a place in the starting XI. Presumably he changes light-bulbs by holding them and waiting for the world to revolve around him. And, on top of everything else, he always bangs home the pressure pens for his club (vs Man Utd and Real) but messed up in the quarter-final shoot-out at the World Cup. Still haven’t forgiven him for that.

So hopefully we’ll learn a few things before the glut of second-half substitutions. Great opportunity for Lennon to stake his claim. One-Trick Downing will presumably continue the crime of the century by adding a further England cap to his collection in the second half. Yet another pretender will try on the gloves. Win, lose or draw, no-one will remember this once we’re at South Africa next year.

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