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"AANP - nobody knows what it means, but it's provocative."

Spurs 0-0 Swansea: Four Lilywhite Observations

1. Sideways

So following the triumphant, mature and slightly lucky Champions League victory midweek, the shiny new tactic unveiled today seemed, if anything, to be to bore the opposition into submission. The sideways passes and keep-ball one understands to an extent, for there was little point in flinging hands heavenwards and lobbing passes straight down opposition gullets. But the fervent, unfailing desire to take three or four touches, pause to contemplate the mysteries of life, swivel and pass backwards was as excruciating to watch as it was ineffectual to pursue. It was as if they had decided en masse to pay homage to all that was most frustrating about Jermaine Jenas back in that halcyon era.

Moreover, it seemed that poor old Kieran Trippier was persona non grata in that first half. Quite what he did in midweek to upset his chums is beyond me, but for around the first half hour they only seemed willing to pass to him once hell had frozen over and all other alternatives exhausted.

Urgency at least increased in the second half, and but for the grace of the Almighty we might have had 2 or 3 (it is not generally the policy around these parts to comment on refereeing calls – the old beans make their calls as honestly as the rest of us), but a good few jugfuls of damage were done in that ponderous opening 45.

2. Son

Son will presumably be stroking the chin with a raised eyebrow and a pensive demeanour as he swills the evening whisky. Having delivered a peach of a performance in the guise of Second Striker on Wednesday – including the most Son-esque goal imaginable – the unfortunate young thing found himself square pegged into the cursed left wing-back berth vs Swansea, as the Brains Trust started to get a little carried away with things.

Pre-match I suppose the rationale was understandable. Son at wing-back vs Chelsea is an accident waiting to happen, but at home to a Swansea team erring a mile or so on the side of caution the risk seemed somewhat diminished. And in truth there was precious little defending required of the chap, particularly with Vertonghen behind him. Moreover, given that his Wednesday night goal gestated on the left wing, one again eyeballs the pre-match rationale, and at least understands, if not necessarily heartily endorsing.

As it transpired, however, the plan was utterly rotten, and while Ben Davies peered on from the snug seats, the left wing-back vicinity proved quite the headache.

3 Ever Increasing Levels of Tactical Bedlam

As things wore on, the already convoluted plan was twisted into increasingly unrecognisable form, and alarm bells gonged away like there was no tomorrow. Our Glorious Leader’s every tactical move began to resemble a bleary-eyed AANP desperately trying to wring success out of a Football Manager shambles in the wee small hours of his University days, with plans being ripped up and replaced with something even more outlandish every 5 minutes or so.
Moving the flailing giraffe that is Sissoko to right wing-back, and shoving Trippier out to left-wing back – while Ben Davies peered on from the snug seats – was certainly rather unconventional, but the point of the exercise seemed to be to thrust Son slap-bang into the centre of things.

And credit where due, Son has the size 8s quick enough to make himself a nuisance and conjure up a little magic. Trippier was fairly neutered on the left, and Sissoko fairly ineffective on the right – but at least Son was making a fist of things in attack.

Still no goal, mind, so Pochettino dipped further into his box marked “Curiouser and Curiouser”. In desperate need of a goal, and with Dembele and Llorente available – and Ben Davies peering on from the snug seats – a second right-back was thrown on. AANP automatically reached for the nearest whisky.

And then, with four centre-backs still in residence, and a right-back still at left-back – while Ben Davies peered on from the snug seats – Son was removed. AANP’s head began to throb.

Easy to mock from the comfort of AANP Towers of course, and we did come within a gnat’s wing of scoring one way or another, but le grand fromage has to live and die by these calls, and the decisions not to include Davies, nor involve Dembele at any point, seemed dashed peculiar with each passing minute.

4. Llorente

A glass was raised on deadline day when Senor Llorente was ushered into the fold. A cursory glance was enough to reveal that numerous boxes were ticked by the arrival of a forward with Premiership experience, a clutch of medals, of decent height and strength, and relatively content to peer on from the buffers as Master Kane peddles his wares. On top of which, Llorente allows for the introduction of a conventional Plan B, should we desperately need a goal in the dying embers of a game.

So, cometh the hour and whatnot. With 15 or so remaining, Llorente entered the fray.

And was dutifully ignored by just about everyone in lilywhite.

What the devil is the point in introducing a robust, burly sort into the attack if there is no inclination to loft him one or two via the aerial route and give the opposition a new point to consider? Heaven knows. I think by that stage the tactical instruction was “Every man for himself”, because nothing seemed to make sense and it all made me want to find the nearest wall and bang my head against it.

Such is life. Wembley or not – and the greater expanses of land do seem to impinge a dash upon the whole high-press routine – this is not the first time our heroes have entered into something of a to-do if they fail to score early. On this occasion, however, the AANP finger of blame jabs squarely towards team selection, and our glorious leader.

Shameless Plug Alert – AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes, continues to retail at Amazon and Waterstones, hint hint

Spurs 2-1 Swansea: Four Lilywhite Observations

1. “It Absolutely Will Not Stop…”

By golly that was relentless stuff, what? Sends you out with a song on your lips, to see a Tottenham team spend around 89 of their allotted 90 hammering away at the door. Having had two weeks off to sun themselves and whatnot, one would think the Swansea mob will need another fairly lengthy lie-down, not to mention a bracing snifter or two, because they were subjected to an absolute non-stop barrage today, the poor mites. I have not witnessed such an incessant pummelling since – well, truth be told we did something fairly similar a couple of days ago against Fiorentina, but nevertheless. Our heroes appear to be well and truly off the leash.

It was all akin to the relentless, remorseless, unflinching pursuit of a Terminator, except that rather being saved by a plucky chap from the future who happened to be his own father or some such gubbins, this time Skynet battered away until they won. Rather a shame for humanity, and it would leave the machines with little more to do than pootle along playing checkers with one another, but the thread of the thing is that having once resembled a gaggle of playful little lambkins, our heroes now rattle along with fire in bellies and the scent of blood in their flared nostrils. Which is by and large the stuff of you-know-whats.

2. Recovering From Losing Positions

Falling behind was not exactly in the game-plan, and the vaguely fortunate manner of the ‘assist’ one would have understood if our heroes had taken a minute out of proceedings to congregate in the centre and throw their arms aloft as one to bemoan their wretched luck.

Not a bit of it. These days, the hows and whys and wherefores seem not to matter to our lot, to the tune of 17 points rescued from losing positions so far this season. As such, the reaction to going one down was a collective up-rolling of sleeves, and muttered oath of re-commitment to Plan A, namely the incessant piling forward of every man and his dog, and slinging along the kitchen sink for good measure. Thirty-four shots on goal is testament to this, and whereas in previous weeks I have taken the liberty of politely clearing the throat when the topic of Final-Third Ingenuity is raised, this time the flow of events suggested that an equaliser was as inevitable as night following day.

3. Dembele-Replacement Techniques

The ongoing absence of Dembele no doubt threatens to send the Title challenge skidding fairly drastically off-course, for one cannot simply pluck such a beast from the midst of things and expect the regulars to continue nibbling the profiteroles and making polite small-talk. Mercifully, and without wanting to be too unkind to the chap, young Carroll is also off-radar at the moment with a broken thumbnail, so whereas Carroll-for-Dembele has been the curious default option of Pochettino in weeks gone by, ‘twas not an option today, ye gods be praised.

Moreover, instead of slotting in one of the more typical terrier types to do their best Dembele impression (a Bentaleb or Mason, if you will), Pochettino rather charmingly decided that precious little further back-four protection and midfield steel would be required today, and dispensing with all niceties about showing respect to the opposition and suchlike, he dropped Eriksen a little deeper, threw in Son and Lamela, and unleashed the battle-plan marked ‘All Guns Blazing, What?’

Naturally, here at AANP Towers such attack-minded fare was greeted with an eardrum-splitting thumbs up, and as it transpired it was a jolly successful ploy. The need for a Dembele-esque bulldozer was minimal, given that there was barely a midfield battle to be won – the gist of things instead following a pattern of lilywhite bombardment upon a ten-man Swansea defence.

Eriksen it seemed to me rather enjoyed skipping around in the deeper areas, his little grey cells ticking over as he slipped in weighted passes hither and thither, prodding for an opening. In tougher matches – this Wednesday away to West Ham for a start – I would guess that this attack-heavy approach might be weighted a little too heavily towards the gung-ho side of life, but today it did the necessaries.

4. Lloris

On days such as these, when life ticks by in a never-ending string of Tottenham attacks, it is easy to neglect the poor chaps at the other end, who silently plod along keeping everything just so, but by golly we owe a debt and a half to Monsieur Lloris today. In truth we owe him just about every game, but the saves he so delightfully modelled at either end of proceedings were a gentle poke in the ribs to all observers, reminding us that any binge at the Title requires a fairly nifty guardian of things at the uncomfortable end.

And there’s the rub, if you stop and squint at it. Six wins in a row, eleven games left, and so on and so forth. I rather fear that the six-game winning streak might cough and splutter somewhat, away to West Ham on Wednesday, but who knows? There are fewer better places to be on this mortal sphere than sitting on the shoulder of the leader as we rumble into the finishing straight.

Shameless Plug Alert – AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes, continues to retail at Amazon and Waterstones, hint hint

Swansea 1-3 Spurs: First XI vs Squad Players

Bless them, Swansea genuinely are a team I would like to play every week. Like some sort of Tottenham Hostpur-lite, they really do not look the sort of troupe who like to get their shirts dirty with any of that tackling nonsense (although Chiriches and his pretty little face might beg to differ), and they would happily spend all day pinging short passes to one another if they could, even if doing so means creating all manner of difficulty for themselves in their own area, just because it all looks so pretty. In the final analysis, it feels a little bit like watching our first eleven playing the squad players.

In the opening half hour it did admittedly seem that our back-four were but one killer pass away from being rather brutally dismembered, but with each passing week it becomes ever more apparent that this is actually just a hilarious optical illusion of the Sherwood Era, and that Chiriches and Dawson actually have everything under control at all times, and are secretly smoking cigars rather than breaking sweat.

A pat on the back too for young Master Walker, who went steaming up the line with such vim and vigour that one imagines he eschewed the bus ride and instead sprinted all the way back to North London. Bentaleb also toddled around with the air of a young man who had arrived at the office with pencils sharpened and a nice clear agenda for the day. It is easy to see why the Brains Trust ’14 like the cut of his jib, for as jibs go his is cut with a pleasing mix of aggression and uncomplicated passing.

However, the shiniest star is saved for young Eriksen, who seemed rather at ease with life in a more central position. Indeed, the forfeiting of Soldado for Chadli had the salubrious side-effect of allowing the midfielders generally to buzz into each other’s territory whenever they spotted something that took their fancy, and this being Swansea it didn’t particularly matter who did what. Chadli himself did not exactly blow up anybody’s skirt, but the principle served well enough, and suggests that when fit again the future could look bright for Lamela.

Dawson Watch

AANP would not be the grumpy soul he is without a whinge or two about glorious captain, and indeed in the first half boxes were duly ticked as he went sliding full pelt in typically whole-hearted and ill-time manner at one point, and then executed that scarcely believable two-handed shove on a chap in the penalty area, a manoeuvre rather generously ignored by the ref. But by golly all was forgiven in the second half, when of all things he rolled a perfectly-weighted diagonal pass inside the full-back and into the path of young Master Walker, leading directly to our second goal. Who would have thought the old man to have so much cunning in him?

Other Highlights

As well as Dawson’s Modric moment, there was also Kyle Walker’s quite glorious dummy in the final moments, that left some poor Swansea bean on his posterior, and the Eriksen cross for the opening goal, that curled so viciously I felt a little dirty just watching it. To their credit, both Dawson and Chiriches did the honourable things in central defence with minimal nonsense, particularly against an opponent such as Bony, who appears to have much of the barnstorm in his constitution.

A cheery day’s work then, and the glint in his eye will tell you that Sherwood has his little mitts set on that Manager of the Month award. The fixtures may have been kind, but the football is fun, the goals are rolling in at a healthy lick and the Top Four remains within spitting distance.

Swansea – Spurs Preview: The Striking Selection Dilemma… Again

And so the interminable wait continues, amongst just about every Spurs fan of my acquaintance, for the Sherwood bubble to burst, so that those sharpened knives can be plunged with gusto. Nevertheless, it’s four wins and a draw in the league, and another win or draw would seem to be on the agenda today. The approach these days appears to be kill or be killed, so while the defence bears a permanent ‘skin-of-its-teeth’ take on life, up the other end the Eriksen-Adebayor-Soldado-Lennon axis poodles along in pretty fine fettle, and one or two of that mob will presumably be to the fore again today.

Depressingly enough there won’t be too many more opportunities to ponder this in the future, but Sherwood will presumably be scrawling in ‘Credit’ and ‘Debit’ columns respectively the various permutations of replacing Soldado with Defoe. I jolly well know where my own preference lies, but I presume we will again be treated to 70 minutes of Soldado sliding in to knee the ball up into the stands and pick himself up with that rather angry expression on his face as if it’s really all our fault for shouting at the telly-box in the first place.

The rest of the team picks itself these days, and that there is now consistency in team selection makes a welcome change from the slightly more haphazard take on things of the previous regime. The downside seems to be that one cannot stretch a limb these days without crashing into another soul who wants to hitch a lift on the Defoe Express and set off for pastures new. Holtby, Capoue and Chadli have all apparently toyed with the idea in recent days, and Lamela’s name is rarely far from a transfer gossip column. All of which makes me wonder what has happened, six months on, to the summer blueprint of creating a squad for all seasons, which was so enthusiastically endorsed by the suits in the corridors of power.

Meaty stuff I’m sure you agree, but a sizeable digression from the task in hand. I rather like watching Swansea, truth be told, and given their keep-ball style, and our new-fangled approach of back-to-front-as-quickly-as-humanly-possible this ought to make for entertaining viewing. As ever I rather fear for our defence, but all things considered we ought to out-score this lot.

Swansea 1-2 Spurs: Vertonghen’s Pipe & The Blessed Return of Lennon

On a scale of Bothersome to Tickety-Boo this result is Quite the Cheeky Restorative, what? All rather frantic and wince-inducing by 16.50 GMT for sure, but ‘twas ever thus in the land of Mighty Hotspurs Seeing Things Through to The Closing Credits, and whichever way you dilute, swill, gargle and spit it out a 2-1 away win is a 2-1 away win, and for that we can dashed well click our heels.

Vertonghen: Golly

Goodness only knows quite what stuffing is going into the Vertonghen pipe these days, but by jove it is putting more than just a spring in his step. Headed goals are one thing, and the controlled volley against Liverpool was particularly adept for someone who is ostensibly a centre-back – but the control and finish for his latest masterpiece did not have me leaping from the seat so much as examining him suspiciously for signs that this was in fact Master Bale donning a remarkably convincing all-in-one, full-size Central Defender costume for a happy chum’s stag weekend. Apparently not however; this is indeed Vertonghen, and he really does show more composure and élan in front of goal than most English centre-forwards in a tournament squad. On top of which, he continues to carry out the day-job, of defensive elbow-grease, with the sort of class not seen in the less savoury aspects of life since Alan Rickman informed an awestruck public that he must have missed 60 Minutes. Dawson has his fans, and rightly so, but at AANP Towers we are donning party hats and pouring Twiglets into a bowl in preparation for the day when Vertonghen is paired with Monsier Kaboul, and the very definition of “Central Defensive Thunderblitz” is written anew.

Elsewhere on the Pitch

Naturally enough, Bale had his cape securely fastened too, another absurdly high-quality strike accompanied by the usual bevy of stirring gallops from the halfway line. And this on what was somehow one of his quieter days.

One suspects we will be one heck of a team once supplemented with a striker who cares two hoots, but until then we must solider on with Adebayor. By contrast Dembele had a good irrepressible air about him, particularly in the first half, and pretty much all of them showed commendable eagerness to beaver away when not in possession in the opening half hour, but probably the most notable difference from the flounderings of recent weeks is that everyone seems simply to know what they are supposed to be doing when Lennon is back on the right, even if he goes 30 minutes without touching the thing.

(And if you pardon me dusting off the AANP anorak, at one point in proceedings I was struck by the observation that for all the left-footers in the team – and there are quite a few now – neither our left-back nor left midfielder/winger were that way inclined. Just an idle musing, neither here nor there.)

For around 30 glorious first half minutes our heroes were jolly well imperious, and two goals was a quite appropriate reward. Thereafter, as with the win against l’Arse a few weeks back, we dropped deeper and cut things a little too fine for the liking of those with an urge to go a few more years before worrying about coronary grumblings, but it is nevertheless vaguely encouraging that by and large these days we hold out until the end.

All of Which Means…

Just a few weeks ago the Top Four appeared to be ours for the taking, but one dodgy Anfield back-pass later and our heroes had wobbled rather drastically off the yellow-brick road. This good race still has a few yards to run, but some degree of order appears to have been restored (again, I humbly direct thee towards Exhibit A in the form of Lennon and his jazz-hands), so I think we all breathe a little easier for now. Happy Easter.

Spurs 3-1 Swansea: Tactical Successes All Round

Thank you, thank you – AANP is happy to take the credit for this long-awaited upturn in fortunes, having all week told anyone within earshot of a cunning Eight-Stage Plan to guarantee we finish fourth. As it happens, the first stage – Win The Next Game – is identical to the following seven stages, but it was nevertheless with some pride that yours truly watched our heroes effect the plan to perfection. Perfection, I tell ye.

Swansea – Eminently Likeable

However, before basking in the glory of my tactical masterplan, it seems only right to heap all manner of praise upon our vanquished foes. Employing their ‘keeper virtually as an eleventh outfield player, as a sweeper under strict instructions not to go long at any point, Swansea resolutely passed and passed and passed, even when under pressure in defence. The way the game is meant to be played dagnabbit (note ye well Tony Pulis and any Stoke fans in the wrong part of town). Admittedly Swansea’s almost religious dedication to the passing game landed them in a lot more trouble than it was worth, as they repeatedly lost possession in their own half, but nevertheless, today football was the winner. Actually, Spurs were the winners, but as long as l’Arse lose out I don’t think anyone is grumbling.

‘Arry’s Tactical Success

Having executed a roll of the eyes so grandiose the little orbs almost tumbled out into the hinterland, on hearing of the selection of both Sandro and Parker in midfield, AANP is content to admit an error, for ‘Arry’s selection worked a dream in the first half. With our front men treading dangerously close to arrest for harassment of the Swansea back-line, the midfield selection gave Parker the licence to push up and press whomever was next in possession for our guests. Many times and oft therefore, did we pickpocket the Swansea midfield and merrily lay siege to their goal, and by half-time the lark had joined Bale on the wing and all was right with the world.

Then in the second half, when the scores were levelled and a tad more urgency was needed, ‘Arry gambled successfully again, removing Sandro, bringing on Lennon and switching to 4-4-2. Ah, is there a sweeter sight in Christendom than Lennon scampering down the right wing, jazz-hands dementedly a-whirring, while just over the horizon our handsome young Welshman lingers on t’other flank, eyes up his full-back and lets out a meaty laugh of doom?

Lennon’s contribution may have been brief, but it was time enough for a couple of darts, a crucial assist and a glimpse of the future. A glorious future, in which our children run freely, the lion sleeps with the lamb and the remaining seven stages of our march to 3rd place are successfully completed by virtue of having Bale on one flank and Lennon on the other for the rest of the season. Onwards! Thirdwards!

Spurs – Swansea Preview: Here Begins The Eight-Game Renaissance

Finally, tidings of genuine optimism and joy. Of our eight remaining games the highest-placed opponent is Sunderland, while l’Arse still have to face Man City, Chelski and Stoke (on top of their bonus defeat to Adel Taraabt and chums yesterday).

Our remaining games won’t win themselves, and in recent weeks the absence of Lennon coupled with central deployment of Bale has hardly helped matters. However, against weaker teams, the formation appears to matter a little less – witness how Bolton were passed to death in midweek by the combo of Bale, Modders and VDV behind Adebayor. Our heroes are beginning to purr once more, and as luck would have it, are due to face a whole phalanx of opponents with track-records of helplessness in the face of purring.

Swansea to be fair are one of the most attractive teams in the division (their manager, that Rogers chap, the next-but-one Spurs manager in my mind), but with home advantage our lot ought to outpass and outscore them. One game at a time and all that gubbins, but the Excitement Dial at AANP Towers has been rotated up a whole notch and a half – third place is back on the radar.

Swansea – Spurs Preview: The “Free Gareth Bale” Campaign

Recent games have dealt with the notion of ‘Arry as a tactical buffoon in no uncertain manner. In days gone by the signing of VDV, the plan to loan Bale to Nottingham Forest and the instruction to Pav to “go out there and f***ing run about” did little for our glorious leader’s reputation as tactical genius, and was grist to the mill of a whole army or interweb critics (mea culpa) who lambasted him for doing little more than closing his eyes, pinning a tail on a donkey and accepting the plaudits as his blind gamble paid off.

Lambast him no more, all ye armchair genii. ‘Arry’s switch to 3-5-2 and wing-backs against Stoke was a laudable moment of lateral thinking, which rather got swallowed up in the whole furore over referee Chris Foy, his trips to Specsavers and his Olympic cycling performances.

Then last week against Norwich, when faced with the non-Lennon problem again, he hit upon the startlingly effective idea of letting Walker and BAE take care of the flanks, and giving VDV and Bale free roles.

Whether this would work against Top Four types is still up for debate, but freeing Bale from the shackles of the left wing proved one of the best ideas since that chap in the bakery stopped juggling knives for lunchtime entertainment of his colleagues, and decided instead to plunge the things into the midst of the loaves and see what transpired.

The free role for Bale makes it dashed difficult for opposing Neanderthals to double- or triple-mark him, and also carries the potential for further ripping gallops straight down the centre, a la his second goal against Norwich. All those who can think of the foggiest reason why why this same strategy might not work again today, comment now or forever hold your breath in awe as Bale cuts swathes through the Swansea back-four.

Given that our fixture list tends to burst at the seams at this time of year, there may be a reason for a spot of starting XI rotation – but frankly that has rarely been ‘Arry’s modus operandi, so we can all probably close our eyes and reel off the starting XI right this minute. Play our usual game and it will be three more points to end the year.

All the best for 2012, ye lovely lovely people.

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