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Southampton 1-0 Spurs: Six Tottenham Talking Points

1. A New Low

Not being the sort who goes in for psychological lit., I couldn’t tell you much about the seven stages of grief, but I suspect that, in common with most others of lilywhite persuasion, I spent much of yesterday pinballing between most of them as yesterday’s ghastly horror unfolded before the eyes.

Now make no mistake, the eleven out there (plus the couple of stand-ins roped into it) are souls possessed of fine footballing pedigree. Employ the scientifically-proven AANP technique “Who Would Buy Them?” and you no doubt see each of them carted off to the upper echelons of the European game.

And it is precisely this context that drives the casual observer to madness. Rather than take the fairly logical step of transferring their natural wares onto the public arena, our heroes to a man spent the entirety of the game listlessly ambling around the pitch as if, while contractually obliged to be physically present, they were damned if they were going to devote an ounce of energy to the cause.

The mind absolutely boggles. Are they injured? Are they unwell? Are they all physically exhausted? What the hell is wrong with them?

Having reassured myself during the dreadful first half against Norwich that at least we could not be any worse, one rather rubs the eyes in disbelief at the depths plumbed thereafter.

The horrific specifics, not that we need much reminding, have included a striking lack of movement from those not in possession, a lack of invention from those in possession and a quite startling inability from any of them to hit their mark with even the most basic, short-distance passing.

All of which says nothing about the fact that when Southampton had the ball we scrambled around in their shadows as if up against world-beaters, rather than a decidedly average outfit whose most notable contribution to the season was to concede nine goals at home a few weeks back. And yet there they were, in glorious technicolour, beating us to ever 50-50 and bounding around more energy in every step.

So again, with a shake of the head and no lack of bewilderment, I ask what the hell is wrong with them?

2. The Positives

It’s a rather fetching kit, that dark number with the natty chest design.

3. Far From Convinced By The Midfield Set-Up

Make no mistake, I’m not sure any formation in the world could have righted the endless wrongs of yesterday. If every member of the platoon is struggling to play a five-yard pass, and cannot muster the energy to do more than jog while their opponent sprints, then the writing is already on the wall.

However, the general set-up – and in particular the mechanics slap bang in the centre of the pitch – do not really aid the cause.

Going forward, the midfield is not really the hub of creativity one would hope. As ever, the fault often lies with those not in possession, who offer precious few options, but rather hang their teammates out to dry. When Toby, Jan or even Ndomble or Eriksen were in possession, it did not require the country’s sharpest minds to sense their frustration at looking up, seeing nothing inviting, changing direction, still seeing nothing inviting and resorting to the aimless punt upfield.

Cast your minds back to the opening match of the Jose era, against West Ham, and we benefited from Dele, Lucas or Son dropping a few yards to receive the ball fairly centrally and on the half-turn. Mischief duly followed.

Yesterday it barely happened. The options instead seemed to be rather laboured progress down the flanks or the long ball out of defence, which veered swiftly from hopeful to hopeless. Quick and nifty one-touch stuff through central midfield and into attack was not on the agenda.

Ndombele has something about him of a man who can at least instigate some bits and bobs, and one would not mind seeing things built around the chap. One can imagine worse starting points and gameplans. In fact one does not need to imagine them because they’ve been on public display for the last few games. But for now The Ndombele Approach is not gaining much traction. When the chap does embark on a gallop, few around seem to notice or care, much less race up alongside him to offer support; and more to the point the poor lad is made of biscuits and cannot blow his nose without twanging a hamstring.

The onus therefore fell upon Eriksen and Lo Celso, which in theory should be the sort of well from which all sorts of goodness should gush. Unfortunately both were pretty comfortably outfought by their vastly less talented opponents, and when opportunities did fall their way to pull strings and solve the world’s ills, their compasses spun in all directions and passing accuracy went up in smoke.

4. Lack of Defensive Cover

Normally when matters in one respect are hitting some turbulence, one can at least console oneself that in some other respect there are encouraging shoots to offset the gloom. Silver linings, if you will.

So, when faced with the complete lack of invention, creativity or even the faintest clue going forward, one would normally remind oneself that such are the sacrifices to be made for defensive solidity. All for the greater good, as it were. Honourable stuff.

These, however, are pretty parlous times, and if you want defensive solidity the Tottenham back-line is one of the last places on earth you should park up.

Again, the lack of energy is pretty damning. Our back-four is in pretty wobbly shape, this much is true, but it is noticeable that they are receiving precious little support from midfield. The midfield bods neither hound in midfield nor race back to add muscle and numbers to defence.

In short, they seem to offer neither one thing nor the other, and this peculiar aimlessness with which they drift through matches seems to reflect a lack of direction from on high. The occasional visitor, on dipping their noses in, might conclude that no clear instructions have been given as to the sort of approach that ought to be adopted. And here, one would think, is where Jose earns the big bucks.

5. More Needed From Lucas

I don’t keep a tally of such things, but I think I’m right in saying that this month marks two years of Lucas at the club, and it’s fair to say his flame has only occasionally flickered.

Obviously there was the Champions League stuff, for which we will all be eternally grateful. A virtuoso performance at Old Trafford also stands out, and a hat-trick late last season. When in full flow, the fellow can be difficult to stop.

But by and large, he rolls out the one trick – trying to dribble around everyone in his path – and it seldom works. By force of will he helped to drag us into the game against Norwich, but yesterday was a more typical Lucas showing, of numerous mazy gallops off-course and into cul-de-sacs before being crowded out by a swarm of opponents and going to ground in a blur of limbs.

While there is value in his willingness to run at opponents, as this can help pull them out of position, the chap really ought to sit down and have a long, hard think about his end-product. There’s little point in taking them all on if the conclusion is that they then pick up possession themselves. Lamela is cut from pretty similar cloth in this respect.

6. Sessegnon Yet to Look The Part

Or, more accurately, Sessegnon looked every inch the part, because he was as poor as everyone else. As such he fitted right in amongst the dross, misplacing his passes and emerging second-best from his challenges as if he had the instructions to do so drilled into him every waking hour.

This is not to single out the poor lad. I only mention it because I had rather hoped that being the newest lamb in the fold maybe the general malaise had not spread as far as him. No such luck.
Any youthful innocence and joie de vivre has already been wiped from his being. The scars of being a member of THFC Circa 19/20 are already evident. One feels for him. Having arrived with such a reputation and with so much promise, he deserves better than to be dragged down as yet another rat on this sinking ship.

Plenty of time for him to find his feet of course, but as we wildly look about in all directions for someone to provide an instant spark, we should probably just look elsewhere and let him chug along at his own pace.

I could warble on about others, but, taking my cue from the players themselves, I have rather lost the will at this stage. Goodness knows what fresh hell awaits at the weekend, but the FA Cup may yet provide a positive – and shiny – appendage to the season.

Norwich 2-2 Spurs: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. Outfought in the First Half

Life being what it is, we rumbled into this game bereft of various midfield luminaries, so with one thing and another Jose settled on a line-up so forward-thinking I greeted it with all the excitement of a bulldog being presented with a slab of meat.

With Eriksen and Lo Celso adopting the posts normally occupied by more dour and workmanlike sorts, and the usual glitzy array of swingers and shakers in attack, one could not swing a cat without hitting some sort of attack-minded chump, and hands were gleefully rubbed in anticipation.

And although typically porous at the rear, proceedings began promisingly enough. Through a combination of our glut of forward-thinkers and Norwich’s own unique brand of defensive hospitality, we had ourselves enough presentable chances in the opening thrusts to suggest that we would rack up a handful.

Oh that life around these parts were so simple, what?

Naturally, our heroes took it upon themselves to steer well clear of any such method that would have carved out a fairly straightforward route to victory, and instead imploded with impressive promptness, gifting Norwich their opening goal.

This was frustrating enough – albeit far from surprising – but what really irked was the communal decision taken thereafter to wilt away from combat and allow Norwich to outfight us for the next forty-odd minutes. Our line-up boasted as much talent as one could waggle a stick at, yet none of them seemed interested in fighting for superiority. But for the most VAR-esque of VAR decisions we might well have been two down, and few words of complaint about such a situation would have passed muster.

2. Ndombele in Possession

Jose tweaked and tinkered at half-time, as much, one suspects, to shake our heroes out of their collective torpor as to facilitate any critical tactical alteration, and it worked to a degree, at least in so far as it arrested the slide.

An odd second half followed, in which we sporadically dominated Norwich without really hitting top gear. However, from start to finish, one man who, in possession at least, was faultless to an absolutely mesmerising level, was Ndombele.

It was the occasion of his 23rd birthday, so my spies inform me, and on this showing the chap has evidently been putting those two and a bit decades to excellent use, because he seemed to wander around the place with the ball positively glued to his person. The Ghost of Mousa Dembele Past was flouncing about the place like nobody’s business, as Ndombele made the very most of his meaty frame to ensure that all-comers simply bounced off him and possession remained unsullied.

As well as upper body strength in spades, Ndombele also rolled out what one suspects will quickly become a signature shoulder-drop-and-body-swerve routine, straight from the Mousa Dembele box of tricks, and having realised he had stumbled upon a good thing the first time, he did not stop flashing it at every opportunity thereafter.

The whole thing had the light of love in AANP’s eyes, make no mistake, and I honestly cannot recall a single occasion on which Ndombele actually lost possession. He simply wriggle and shimmied his way clear of opponents every time he touched the ball.

Alas, this sterling work was all conducted in a strip of earth around the centre circle, rarely more than about ten yards inside the Norwich half. So for all the aesthetic quality – and he had it by the bucketload – ultimately Ndombele’s labours amounted to precious little in terms of runs scored, if you get my drift.

He was not helped by teammates who seemed to have little appetite for using the ball to any productive ends once he had given it to them, but in general it seemed a dashed shame that having fairly effortlessly glided his way into space, Ndombele did not keep gliding until he found himself in or approaching the final third.

3. Eriksen – Man of the Match, According to the TV Bods

I had the pleasure of observing yesterday’s events through the medium of telly-box, and hearing it narrated by a couple of rather odd fish, who got it into their pickled little brains at around the mid-point that the star performer amidst the mediocrity and mistakes was one C. Eriksen Esquire.

And once they had landed upon this narrative, these commentators were not about to relinquish it. The fact that Ndombele was untouchable in his little central campsite was completely ignored. Eriksen – who, in the interests of fairness, did weight one glorious pass into the inside right channel – was identified as the star performer, and this was sufficient, irrespective of what he actually did.

The eagle-eyed amongst you might pause at this point, re-read the above paragraphs, and wonder to yourself if this particular scribe were not overly impressed by Eriksen’s contribution – and you would not be far wrong. The chap was not awful, but neither was he particularly outstanding. As with Lo Celso and various others who drifted through the midfield lanes, he hovered over the ball, hummed and hawed, and then tended to shove it elsewhere in fairly inoffensive fashion.

There were spells in the second half when collectively we produced some slick stuff, but it would be a stretch to say that Eriksen was front and centre of such purple patches. And while his free-kick hit the top corner, it did so via a deflection, and punctuated a string of corners that as often as not rolled apologetically to the first defender to clear.

Still, he – and presumably his agent – would have been as thrilled as the rest of us that his free-kick did ultimately find its way to goal. Something by which to remember the chap. Shame it did not quite change the momentum of the game as originally threatened.

4. Foyth Does What Foyth Does

However, any discussion of the merits of otherwise of Eriksen, Ndombele and whomever else rather flies into the background at a rate of knots when the catastrophic defensive mistakes are hauled into view and subjected to inspection.

As is traditional, Foyth was a central figure in the calamity. We enlightened types are all for the next generation coming through, and learning from mistakes and so and so forth – but the narrative comes crashing down when the young beans in question keep making the same dashed mistake every time.

It seems that having done the basics (which itself is not necessarily guaranteed, but I’ll buzz over that for now) Foyth takes the reasonable step of advancing with the ball, at which point the voices in his head take over and trouble kicks in. These voices seem to whisper that he is on a good thing, that bringing out the ball will put hair on his chest, that he is possessed of the technique and vision that can alter a game – and while these voices are in full swing and have his complete attention, some bounder from the shadows steals in to dispossess the chap, and all hell breaks loose.

If we’ve seen it happen once we’ve seen it happen every time Foyth takes to the pitch. The collective decision by those around him to back off the Norwich chap hardly remedied the situation, nor did Gazzaniga cover himself in glory by flapping a limp hand at the ball – but the problem had its genesis at Foyth, as happens so frequently.

5. Aurier Chips In His Contribution to the Calamitous

And while on the subject of eye-wateringly catastrophic defensives lapses, it would be remiss not to parade Serge Aurier, a chap whose name may well translate into English as “Defensive Calamity”.

Oddly enough, in this specific instance I have a degree of sympathy for the young fool, as I often do in matters of The Own Goal. My take on these is generally that, unless lamped into one’s own net flush on the volley, these things tend to be pretty unavoidable acts of physics, in which the ball whizzes towards a defender at such a rate of knots that he barely has time to register the turn of events, let alone recalibrate the mechanics and remove himself from the situation.

Moreover, the chap whose misfortune it is to deflect the ball in is quite often the only poor sap who has bothered to haul his frame back into a relevant defensive position. As such, I give him credit for being in the right place, and sympathy for being there at the wrong time. (And yes, there is a reason why my sympathy for purveyors of own goals is quite so strong.)

However, while potentially exonerating the chap in this specific instance, the well of sympathy is not endless, and the sooner we can elbow him off the scene the better.

The Jose Tactics Board seems to dictate that in any given situation, Aurier is our spare attacking outlet, and while this generally minimises the damage he can do towards his own goal, it creates a rather charmed life for a man whose wing-back play is good but hardly magnificent.

But more to the point he is a defensive liability and every soul around, be they friend or foe, knows it. Opponents target him; we lilywhites hold our breath whenever his defensive services are required; and one suspects his own teammates rather hope he will not be called into action.

The sale of Kieran Trippier looks more absurd with each passing game – as absence will make the heart grow fonder – and given the travails of Juan Foyth, and the fact that he is resident right-back for his national team, one wonders whether he might be given a stab at the gig. The notion of Serge Aurier being a fixture on the teamsheet is, after all, a pretty damning indictment on the calamitous state of our defence.

Everton 1-1 Spurs: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. One Red Card and Two Penalty Shouts

First of all one wishes Andre Gomes well.

Yet at the risk of drawing a dirty glance or two, the severity of the injury ought not to colour one’s observations on the bread and butter of things – as was the case with poor old Monsieur Lloris a couple of weeks ago, whose arm injury did not exonerate a faux pas of pretty seismic proportions.

So today, though one did not particularly want to dwell on the replays of the incident, there seemed little to merit a red card, and the official rationale – that the challenge endangered the safety of the opponent – is hardly watertight stuff. A late challenge for sure, a yellow card offence most sages would agree, but the injury appeared to come from poor old Gomes’ landing.

This left our lot down to ten men for around fifteen or twenty minutes – as ever, there’s no knowing how we might have fared with eleven, but being down to ten was hardly of assistance.

As for the penalty shouts – a clash of knees by the Everton chap on Son, and a rogue, waving hand from Dele – the AANP stance, as ever, is that as soon as one makes contact with an attacker, or raises a hand in the area, one’s grounds for complaint quickly descend to wafer-thin levels. Don’t give the referee the option, and there will be no need to practice the poker face as the VAR bods do their stuff.

2. Yet Another Eriksen Off-Day

One does not like to denigrate one’s fellow man, particularly when they clock in for a shift at the office simply to put a loaf or two on the table, but this was pretty dreadful fare from most concerned, and Christian Eriksen obligingly epitomised the dross on show by turning in what is now becoming his trademark for season 2019/20.

The game was absolutely yowling for a midfielder with a sprinkling of class in his size nines to holler for possession and dominate proceedings accordingly. Eriksen’s CV certainly has enough about it to suggest that in circumstances such as these, he’s your man, but once again the Eriksen who spent his afternoon misplacing passes was a shadow of the chap who once picked out the eyes of needles and demonstrated the sort of technique of which we mortals can only dream.

With the Sissoko-Ndombele axis behind him providing a fairly serviceable and solid base, and his position in the Number 10 role essentially giving him a free pass on the defensive front, the stage was set for Eriksen to enjoy himself and wow the regulars.

He did hint at a return to the Eriksen of yore on a couple of occasions – one first half pass from the centre circle almost had Son in behind the last defender; and a second half free-kick was neatly placed into a dangerous area behind the Everton defensive line – but really, when one pays one’s entrance fee and sees the chap’s name in lights, one expects a heck of a lot more from his performance.

3. More Glimpses From Ndombele

He’s still not quite motoring along like the reincarnation of peak Mousa Dembele, but Tanguy Ndombele is continuing to inch his way in that direction.

Ideally one would have liked the chap regularly to have picked up the ball just inside his own half, and within two shakes of a lamb’s tail have turned back-foot into front-foot, either via the medium of a particularly cunning pass, or otherwise a drop of the shoulder and short gallop north.

There were hints of this sort of thing, but generally the bounding fellow tended to adopt more of a safety-first option, turning back-foot into more of a position of calm than anything definitively front-foot, by picking up the ball in a position of potential peril, and finding someone nearby in considerably less peril. It wasn’t the sort of stuff that turned the game on its head; rather it put out the occasional fire and restored order to those in lilywhite. In a game desperately low on quality, it rather caught the wearied eye.

4. A Moment of Class From Dele

The rehabilitation of Dele Alli slowly continues. In common with everyone else who set foot on the pitch, he hardly delivered a performance that blew the mind and challenged everything we ever knew – but he did at least inject into the game our one moment of quality.

Son’s pass to him was pretty topping stuff by the way, and has been rather underrated, but once Dele had the thing in his possession he weaved his way goalward with admirable poise – aided, admittedly, by some comically generous defending – and then delivered a similarly pleasing coup de grace. Amidst the dirge-like goings-on of the rest of the game, the aesthetics of it all stood out a mile, and would have made for a fitting winner.

It hardly constitutes a return to the headiest heights for the young nib, but cumulatively the signs are beginning to stack up that the chap is remembering his lines. One would like to see him make some more telling contributions to our build-up play, and offer more regular goalscoring threat, but within a desperately sub-par team, Dele’s trajectory is at least a positive one.

So this most mediocre of seasons limps on. This really ought to have been won, for Everton lack either the quality of the bigger teams or tenacity of the lesser ones; on top of which they barely threatened until they did finally score. A chance missed then, and the wait for a genuine upturn in fortunes continues.

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

Liverpool 2-1 Spurs: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Waiting Until We Trail To Begin Playing

So that was a game of one seven-ninth and one two-ninth, if ever I saw it. (Strictly speaking, it was more a game of one minute, one seven-ninth and one two-ninth, but I suppose such pedantry can be overlooked on Sundays.)

Having got our noses in front at the earliest possible convenience, our heroes collectively decided to shuffle back as deeply as the laws of the game allowed, and rather inevitably did not budge from this obviously doomed tactic until Liverpool had taken the lead, at around the 70 minute mark.

Thereafter, and with only 20 minutes remaining, they hit upon the remarkable notion of actually taking the fight to their hosts. The whole farcical spectacle made one fling one’s hands in the air and wonder what the point of it all is.

Who knows how things might have panned out had our lot tried to keep possession and link midfield to attack earlier in the piece? One understands the principle of exercising some caution and avoiding unnecessary risks, but we seemed to afford our hosts the sort of respect one would normally reserve for 1970 Brazil. Arguably if we had displayed more attacking intent in the first hour we would still have lost, but the All-Action-No-Plot streak that courses through the veins rather wishes we had lived a smidgeon more by the sword, rather than waiting until the dying embers, to die wondering.

Easy to blame Our Glorious Leader for the ultra-conservative approach, but I doubt that the instructions were to sit quite so deep. In fact, for the first twenty, a semblance of a gameplan seemed to poke its head into view and offer a cheery wave. The formation appeared to be along 4-2-3-1 lines rather than 4-5-1; our counter-attack had a sprinkling of menace (witness our opener); and if anything there was something heartening about the zeal with which our lot adopted a well-organised set-up when out of possession.

But inch by inch and minute by minute, good organisation out of possession morphed into something vastly more negative, and by the half hour mark we appeared to have set up legal residence in the fifteen yards or so outside our own penalty area, the thought of venturing any further north evidently the last thing on anyone’s mind.

2. Eriksen

If Christian Eriksen thinks the blame is all going to be directed at tactics and he can simply sidle quietly out of view, he will jolly well have another think coming.

In his defence, it was hardly his fault that he spent his entire match chasing Robertson’s shadow. This did admittedly appear a thankless task for someone whose DNA does not exactly brim with the ins and outs of tracking opposing attackers. Moreover, ill-suited though he was to such an activity, he did not shirk it, and instead hared around with willing, albeit to only moderate effect.

However, in a game that increasingly cried out for some control and possession, I don’t mind pointing a finger in Eriksen’s direction, and giving it a couple of meaningful jabs for good measure, for we barely strung three passes together for the first hour or so – and if Eriksen cannot contribute to this particular challenge, for which nature appears specifically to have created him, then one is entitled to wonder what the dickens he is doing on the pitch.

The game-plan was evidently to hit Liverpool at breakneck speed on the counter, but after incessant defensive drills one would have thought there would have been some merit in simply retaining possession for a few minutes, and letting Liverpool shuffle back into their own half. This ought to have been Eriksen’s brand of cognac, but the chap offered precious little in possession, and while he was by no means the only culprit, this can go down as yet another big game in which he offered precious little to justify the reputation.

3. Dele Alli

In recent games young Dele seems to have rolled up his sleeves and at least given the appearance of trying to right a few wrongs. This has presumably been due to his jettisoning from the England squad rather than anything else, but the shoots of a return to form have been spotted by the particularly eagle-eyed, so one was inclined to hope for the best today.

Alas, as with Eriksen, the whole back-foot set-up seemed to grab young Dele squarely by the shoulders and fling him a considerable distance out of his comfort zone. Where we looked to the young bean to link midfield to attack, instead he simply had to roll out an Eric Dier impression and chase Liverpool shadows in midfield.

To an extent both Eriksen and Dele can plead mitigating circumstances, because they certainly did not sign up to such nonsense as tracking opposing forwards thirty yards from their own goal. Yet there they both were, and it is not an exaggeration to suggest that neither appeared particularly thrilled with life.

Sympathy was in short supply from these quarters, however. When life gives you lemons, you must, as the adage has it, make lemonade; and when Liverpool hog possession and throw wave after wave of attack at you, you must cherish the few touches of the ball that they offer, and show some composure in possession. Alas, it is a damning indictment on both Messrs Eriksen and Alli that neither lemonade nor any semblance of composed possession was on display.

I suppose we should not be surprised that Dele seemed more like his old self once we fell behind, for at that point the whole team shifted forward into attacking positions, and he appeared vastly more comfortable with his surroundings.

4. Gazzaniga

A note on Paolo Gazzaniga, who did not do a whole lot wrong, throughout the ninety.

Now this might sound like the faintest praise with which to damn a chap, but when one puts it into the context of Hugo Lloris and his ever more inventive modes of calamity, simply “not doing a whole lot wrong” gives Gazzaniga the sheen of some divine being, sent from on high.

His saves were solid enough, but in truth shot-stopping was never Lloris’ weakness. It was the other business, the bread and butter stuff, that caught the eye – which again, sounds a bit of an oddity until one puts it into the context of Lloris. Gazzaniga caught crosses that Lloris would arguably have spilled. Gazzaniga punted the ball upfield when Lloris would arguably have played his centre-backs into trouble. Gazzaniga stayed on his feet when Lloris would arguably have tripped over his own shoelaces and shoved the ball into the path of an attacker.

The penalty wrong-footed him, which was a shame, but there was a vaguely reassuring presence about him, which bodes well for the coming weeks.

One might make other observations about our mob – a promising cameo from Ndombele; yet another remarkable finish from Kane; Aurier actually a mite unlucky with this week’s calamity – but having been sucked into a defensive vacuum for over an hour we can hardly complain about having lost. The infuriatingly inconsistent season bobbles on, and one must hope that next week we summon the spirit of last week, and finally turn that dashed corner.

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

Brighton 3-0 Spurs: Three Tottenham Talking Points

1. The Latest Lloris Howler

Decorum naturally dictates that in speaking of Monsieur Lloris one first ought to wish him a speedy recovery, because the slings and arrows of performance-critiquing are one thing, but a particularly nasty-looking injury rather trumps all that, and is not a fate one wishes upon an enemy, let alone one of our own.

As to performance-critiquing however, in his two-minute appearance Lloris was gently lobbed one task, and – as has become his most unwelcome trademark – he made a complete hash of it, conjuring up a mistake where none had seemed possible.

Over the last season or two his aberrations have assumed a gloomy inevitability, albeit generally involving an envelopment of panic when the ball reaches his feet. This time, perhaps in order to vary the monotony, he opted to make a pig’s ear of things with his hands rather than with his feet. Credit is due, he may argue, for livening things up from the off, but today of all days it was the last thing we needed.

After the midweek scoreline and murmurs of internal unrest, there was a fairly obvious need to launch into things today with purpose and confidence. And although physiognomy is a pretty complex art at the best of times, immediately before kick-off our heroes did at least have the dignity to look suitably determined as they prepared for the task at hand.

It really needed a solid opening spell to set the tone, and, above all, an end to the sloppiness and silly mistakes that have littered our season to date. Alas, Lloris’ latest, absurd, needless howler had pretty much the opposite effect, deflating the whole lot of them within the opening two minutes.

The evident severity of Lloris’ injury suggests that his enforced absence will be considerable in length; but even a fully-fit Lloris cannot continue to make such costly errors with such regularity before tongues start wagging and awkward conversations are planned.

2. Listless Players & The Problem This Poses Poch

My inclination in such post-match reflections as these is to pour myself a celebratory or consolatory splash of the good stuff, and single out one or two of the troupe for a stiff going-over. On this occasion however, the whole bally team were so insipid that it is difficult to hone in upon any given one of them as the fellow to whom attention was immediately drawn.

The problem appeared to be a team-wide malaise, which is bad news in anyone’s book. Tactically one might quibble – as indeed I did, during the first half – that Ndombele and Lamela did little to protect the back four, or that Eriksen needed to arrive in support of Kane rather than assume that position as his starting spot.

But after a while I rather flung my hands in the air and muttered “Blast it all,” and wondered if there were any formation in the world that might have arrested the decline of a group of players so consistently failing to win their personal 50-50 challenges, and misplacing their passes, and failing to move enough to provide options for the man in possession, and regarding their required short sprints with the disdain of a reluctant schoolboy sloping off to class.

In short they looked any semblance of urgency, dash it. Very few individuals appeared to be busting a gut for the cause. Lamela and Winks, when introduced, showed glimpses of determination, and Sissoko stuck to his task pretty manfully, in that rather clumsy way of his – but just about all the others appeared simply to go through the motions, failing to give their all and looking for all the world like they wanted the final whistle to arrive.

It all rather feeds the train of thought that Our Glorious Leader is the type of soul at his best when he is cajoling bright, hungry young things to fulfil their potential. This lot are neither young nor, on today’s showing, particularly hungry – which, according to the theory at least, limits Poch’s abilities with them. The signing of Sessegnon and willingness to allow Rose to move on seems to fit this narrative, and it would also explain Poch’s very public calls over the summer for the chance to clear out the closet and go shopping for new outfits, if you get my drift.

Instead, we appear to be left with a group of players brimming with listlessness, and a manager hardly in his element when working with them. It all makes the mind boggle and brow furrow a tad, what?

3. Dier’s Ignominious Return

Back to the action itself, and I suppose it was a big day for Master Dier. The blighter’s fall in the AANP graces has been fairly solidly documented over the last year or two, my principal objections to the chap being that for all his airs of intimidation and aggression, he is rather lacking in timing of the tackle, accuracy of the pass and swiftness of the sprint. (Leaving him with precious little else in the way of a professional footballer, one might suggest, but that’s a matter for a different time.)

In theory, however, Dier makes sense as a footballer, and in his absence in recent weeks, some have understandably called for his inclusion, given that nobody else in lilywhite appears to demonstrate the faintest interest in such boring, menial tasks as protecting the back-four. I was not personally amongst that chorus, but I did appreciate the rationale. According to the instructions on the side of the box in which he is packaged, Dier’s purpose in life is apparently to protect the back-four.

And to his credit, as he buzzed slowly around the pitch, he did appear at least to have the correct instructions ringing in his ears. He chugged over to whichever Brighton soul were in possession and gave a nudge and a kick, then shuffled over to the next chap in possession and repeated the exercise.

It was all rather laboured however – or, to dispense with euphemisms, slow – and therefore to minimal effect. Brighton beat the Dier press by simply passing or dribbling around him, and goodness knows nobody else in midfield was minded to stop them.

Moreover, Dier’s distribution was that of a man whose faith in compasses is long gone, and has resorted to being guided by guesswork, or possibly smell. Whatever it was, his six-yarders rarely hit the target, and it was little surprise to see him shoved back into defence at the interval and a new plan dreamt up.

Not that Dier alone was responsible for the whole sorry mess. He didn’t look remotely fit for a start, but his inclusion did shine something of a light upon the glaring lop-sidedness of our squad, full of nippy attacking sorts, and pretty short passers, and bursting at the seams with centre-backs, but without an adequate defensive midfielder worthy of the name.

But as mentioned above, more than the tactics or formation, this seemed to be a failing of application.

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

Spurs 2-1 Southampton: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. We Need to Talk About Serge

The little voices in Serge Aurier’s head seem only to whisper “Hero” or “Villain”, with little regard for the countless possibilities that lie between.

The old bean’s assets undoubtedly lie in the attacking third, with the positioning he adopts as a wide man complimented by a capacity to deliver the occasional whipped cross.

However, this modest return in the Credit column is rather blown out of the water by the numerous ills that clog up the Debit column. Since his arrival at the club he has racked up a number of utterly mindless red cards and penalty concessions, all of which are suggestive of a mass walkout by the brain cells and general dereliction of duty.

Yesterday Aurier offered precious little of value before chipping in with his usual moments of idiocy.

The first yellow card was needless in the extreme. One understands the concept of self-sacrificial yellow cards – hauling down an opposing chappie on halfway in order to stymie a counter-attack, that sort of sordid business. One does not condone such conduct, of course, but one follows the thought-process. Falling on one’s sword, and so on and so forth. Presumably in some cultures it can even have a certain nobility.

Aurier’s first yellow card however, against an opponent wandering away from goal and edging towards the side of the pitch, was rock-bottom on the list of Risks Worth Taking. It dealt with no threat, offered zero benefit to anyone and left the abysmal young fool with 65 minutes to spend tip-toeing across a tightrope.

As it happened he didn’t last 5 minutes. One might quibble – and several have – about the circumstances around the second booking, but when an old bean knows that his every move is going to be under the scrutiny of a referee with a touch of the Dolph Lundgren about him, that bean, if he has a jot of sense, reverts to his best behaviour and conducts himself impeccably.

Aurier, the poster-boy of recklessness, did enough to give Dolph a decision to make, and we – three days before facing Bayern Munich – were left to play an hour with ten men.

Credit to Sissoko, for doing a pretty flawless job of things as hastily-identified reserve right-back, but in general it is becoming something of a cursed position, and Aurier will have to do a heck of a job to win back some of that rapidly-draining goodwill.

2. We Need to Talk About Hugo

Given the circumstances surrounding the season – want-away players, thrown away leads – and the circumstances of the game, having just lost a man, one would think that the captain would have been precisely the chap to inject a modicum of calmness into proceedings.

Monsieur Lloris however, picked this of all moments to treat us to his best Benny Hill impression, and it is to the immense credit of all concerned that we managed afterward to regain the lead and then cling on to it.

Lloris’ talents (far more than Aurier’s) are pretty visible and regularly on display. His two second half saves – and in particular the instinctive one from the header – served as neat reminders of the chap’s quality when it comes to the basics of stopping the round thing from entering the rectangle.

Alas, it is impossible to ignore the bedlam that ensues every time the chap has the ball at his feet. Ever since Pep Guardiola dared every other manager in the Top Six to play out from the back, all have been too scared to refuse, with the result that even those goalkeepers who can’t pass six yards with tripping over their own feet are now expected to be modern-day Beckenbauers in their distribution.

Lloris’ short passing tends as often as not to lack sense, guile or even basic accuracy; one can see the hearts of Toby and Jan visibly sinking as the moment approaches, while Davinson Sanchez, when involved, looks every inch the man who wants to run off the pitch and disappear into obscurity; and opposition strikers, understandably enough, lick their lips and come charging into our area like kids towards the tree on Christmas morning.

Yesterday’s mistake was not the first – Lloris has done the same thing in a World Cup Final for heaven’s sake, and not learnt his lesson – but aside from whether or not such absurdity results in a goal conceded, it transmits panic throughout the defence and midfield, and invites pressure.

One understands that if operated well it can be devastatingly effective in bypassing an opposition’s press and creating counter-attack opportunities from halfway – but how often do we operate it well when Lloris is the string-puller-in-chief?

3. Cracking Second Goal

Mercifully, those further up the pitch are a darned sight better with ball at feet, and there will be few better examples of this than our second goal.

There was much to admire about it – but in the first place it was interesting to note that the genesis of the whole thing was a non-nonsense hoick up the pitch by Moussa Sissoko, a chap who could probably teach Lloris a thing or two about the art of Not Dallying Around, and in his native tongue, for added attraction.

Thereafter however, one just sat back and purred at the general magnificence that shone forth. Kane’s strength and cushioned header into Son was terrific. Son’s feet were quick, and having played in Eriksen he did not pause to admire his own handiwork but set off at a lick to avail himself further, in the process leaving behind his marker.

Eriksen similarly played an intelligent pass and then scuttled off to receive a return ball, leaving behind his own marker, and then it was up to Kane – whose first touch was actually not of the exquisite quality one has come to expect.

This mattered little however, because once in the area Kane’s eyes inevitably light up, and he inevitably finds a way. The speed of the whole thing was a delight, it reflected the quality of those involved, their awareness and technique. All that was left was for nobody else in lilywhite to decide to liven things up by gifting some advantage back to our visitors.

4. Kane’s All-Round Game

I have already gone a little misty-eyed at Kane’s involvement in the build-up for the second goal, and it served as a textbook example of how much the chap contributes all over the pitch, not just in delivering the coup de grâce.

An isolated incident it most certainly was not. In fact, look back at the early stages of our first goal and one will note that the impetus is initially injected by Kane picking the ball up deep, muscling various others out of the way and giving a sensible pass.

The chap is a veritable all-rounder, with numerous strings to his bow and all of them pretty dashed impressive.

As if to emphasise the point he also had a shot from the halfway line that missed the mark by only a foot or so.

5. Ndombele Beginning to Show Flashes

In general, our lot made an excellent fist of trying circumstances yesterday. Winks was close to immaculate; Eriksen seemed oddly buoyed by the challenge of having to wear a defensive hat; Lamela was the right substitute at the right moment.

In truth, in the second half Ndombele wandered around with the look of a man wondering what he had signed up for, and his wearying limbs were rested before the final toot. However, in the first half he showed glimpses of the chap about whom we all became so giddy with excitement in the summer.

On several occasions he received the ball on the half-turn, wriggled away from one or two challenges and either dabbed the ball to a chum or drew a foul. It was the sort of stuff that just hinted at the ghost of Mousa Dembele, that ability to turn back-foot into front-foot in the blink of an eye.

Still a work in progress no doubt, but the omens are positive. His penchant for popping in the opposition area to thwack one into the net is also something of a bonus.

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

Spurs 3-1 Villa: Six Tottenham Talking Points

1. Old Habits

As the minutes worryingly ticked by yesterday, the phrase that sprung to mind was the old French gag, “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose”, which as I understand essentially translates as “It may be a new season, new stadium and we even have new signings dash it, but this nonsense on the pitch is the same as before, what?”

For this was a script that had been rolled out seven or eight times last season, no doubt about it. Oodles of possession, lack of final-third spark, a well-drilled defensive unit from the opposition and concession of a goal faintly ridiculous in its simplicity – all returned like old friends, picking up where they’d left off.

Mercifully, another trait that can be added to the list is the fact that our heroes have developed quite the knack for turning around a deficit pretty late in the day. Whereas once to be trailing as the clock ticked to 80 or so meant a pretty prolonged agony followed by a grumpy mooch home, now players and fans alike exchange knowing nods as if to say “This is comeback territory.”

So not quite the serene start one might have envisaged, but glass-half-full sorts might point out that we’ll be all the better for having navigated the odd bump in the road, and the important thing was probably not to have fallen 3 points behind the usual suspects before the first weekend of the season is out.

2. My Best Mate Jan

Starting at the start, I don’t mind admitting there was a pretty dubious eyebrow raised when Our Glorious Leader’s latest crazy notion was revealed to be the omission from the squad altogether of AANP’s best mate, Jan Vertonghen.

The official party line, that it’s impossible to pick everyone at once, might, I suppose, have an inkling of truth to it – but the whole turn of events leaves one with a rather hollow feeling in the stomach. Given the way of things in recent years, the mind inevitably wanders back to those fallings-out of senior players with Poch, the likes of Toby and Danny Rose, who having had the temerity to blab disapprovingly of life at the Lane were shoved off to the naughty step for the best part of six months and left to think about what they’d done.

With the European transfer window still alive and kicking, and only one year left on Vertonghen’s contract, I don’t mind admitting that I fear the worst.

It’s all quite the surprise, mind. The chap’s own interviews had generally suggested he was as happy as a pig in its own muck, and the rumours emanating from the camp had indicated that he and Kane, along with Lloris, were members of a well-trusted core of senior bods. Who knows where this is going?

3. First Half Struggles – Winks, Lamela etc

As for the game itself, I was actually pretty pleased with the initial joustings. Lucas Moura set a good tone straight from kick-off by dispossessing some poor sap and blasting one goalwards, albeit immediately afterwards undoing the good work by missing a pretty straightforward header, but in general the early omens were promising enough. Passes were fairly slick and there was a good energy amongst the players.

Alas it quickly went squiffy. Traffic through the centre became pretty congested.
While Winks was neat and energetic and efficient, his passing tends to keep possession rather than rip the spine out of the opposition à la Modric or an on-song Eriksen. Winks scavenged, and darted, and did nothing wrong, but ultimately tended to feed the man six yards away, or at best feed the full-backs out wide.

Lamela did what Lamela does, and dwelt on the ball far too long before releasing it, generally giving the air of a man making a bit of a mess of a his big opportunity (albeit he redeemed himself at the death by winning back possession for our crucial second).

Danny Rose had a fair amount of joy on the left, causing some gratifying moments of alarm in the Villa box every time he curled in a cross, and although his attacking play was as effective as his defending was careless, he looked arguably our most threatening option. Not that there was much competition on that front.

4. Kyle Walker-Peter’s: Not One of Nature’s Crossers

Given the threat posed by Rose’s crossing from the left, I found quickly found myself yearning for a Trippier, or Aurier on the right, which I suppose is an indication of just how frustrating things were becoming.

For young Kyle Walker-Peters had plenty of possession out on the right in the first half, and did nothing particularly wrong – but given the number of times he received the thing, I could not help lamenting that it would not have killed the chap to swing in a cross or two.

Instead he dithered, and fretted, and scurried, and generally ended up trying to take on his man –to his credit, usually winning a corner – or laid the ball back to a handily-placed chum. Nothing wrong with that, as it retained possession, but countless opportunities were missed to swing in an early cross and let bedlam ensue. You can lay a sizeable wager on any of Walker, Trippier or Aurier having tried as much.

Various Spurs-supporting chums opined at half-time that KWP was arguably the pick of our mob; I firmly marked him down in the Debit rather than Credit column. Considering how much of our play went through him in the first 45, and the threat posed by Rose’s crossing on the other flank, I thought he was repeatedly missing a fairly obvious trick. In fact, by half-time I was dishing a strong selection of curses in his direction.

Whether by accident or design, the plug was pulled on KWP as an attacking force (I use the term loosely) in the second half. He sat deeper and focused on mopping up defensively – a job he did quite adequately, to his credit – and more senior sorts like Lucas and Sissoko took on the mantle of patrolling the right flank. I suppose this is what life after Trippier wil look like, so we had all better get used to it, but it seems a limitation to KWP’s game.

5. Early Ndombele Observations

An odd sort of start from our much-heralded newbie. In the first half one rather felt for the young bean, for there was a general frustration amongst those around him, as well as a solid couple of blocks of Villa players in front of him, and I got the impression that he was wondering if this were really such a smart career move.

He certainly tried his heart out – perhaps a little too hard at times – and at other times appeared a little off-pace and puffed of cheek. The second coming of Dembele he did not appear to be, for there were few signs of him picking up the ball and breezing past opponents.

Mercifully, his goal provided a pretty handy adrenaline shot. (Am I right in thinking that Dembele also scored on his home debut?) A well-taken strike it was too, for I can speak with some authority when I suggest that it is pretty easy when lining up those shots, with the ball rolling back towards you, to lean back and bloot them into orbit.

Thereafter, confidence coursed through his veins like nobody’s business, and a whole tranche of pretty unnecessary tricks and flicks were unleashed. The chap started to do his best Moussa Sissoko impression, surging forward with the ball, and the wonderful prospect of an unstoppable Ndombele-Sissoko double-act hove briefly into view.

6. Eriksen On Song

The Great Eriksen Debate has proved pretty divisive stuff, and there was no letting up yesterday.

No real doubt about it, the chap’s introduction made a difference yesterday. Where previously there had been a heck of a lot of scratching of heads and shrugging of shoulders and passing of buck, once Eriksen had toddled on everyone basically just gave him the ball and left him to it.

And his outputs were pretty impressive. He picked a handful of clever passes, cunningly threading them in between defenders and into space for chums to run onto, rather than simply to feet, which had proved largely beyond his teammates for the preceding hour.

It was in general a pretty good advert for the young fish’s wares, and goodness knows his agent must have rubbed his hands in glee.

As one of those who has often chided the man, I’m happy to hold up my hands and applaud him for his efforts yesterday. And if he shows that same eagerness to demand the ball and look to create opportunities on a weekly basis I’ll probably plant myself far more firmly in the Pro Eriksen camp.

However, if you pardon my tuppence worth, I remain a tad wary, as I feel like I have seen plenty of games like yesterday’s in which we have needed inspiration but Eriksen has sat back and let proceedings pass him by. Yesterday, for the 15 or minutes in which he played, everything went through him, and this should be the case more regularly, rather than having 89 quiet minutes and one moment of magic. I would prefer we keep him than sell him, but would like to see yesterday’s performance become his norm. Admittedly I would also like us to win the league and revert back to blue socks, but such things occasionally need to be said.

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

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