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Man Utd 1-6 Spurs: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Hojbjerg’s Man of the Match Stuff

When Gary Neville took time out from his 90-minute long soliloquy on Man Utd to toss a Man of the Match award in the direction of the good ship Hotspur, he appropriately enough gave the matter zero thought and rattled off the first name that sprung to his mind, Harry Kane.

Now Kane is a man of multiple talents, just about all of which were on display today – and for those campers who are firmly pro-Kane but a little less decided on all things Hojbjerg, there might be value in skipping over the following few paragraphs and lapping up the Kane-heavy content below.

Here at AANP Towers however, the bouquets were being flung in the direction of P-E Hojbjerg throughout, because in a quiet and understated way the chap absolutely bossed proceedings.

When science progresses to the point that cutting open a chap’s brain to understand clearly how the levers and pulleys work is as regular as flicking on a light switch, I’ll happily petition for Master Hojbjerg to be the first to go under the knife, because his knack for knowing precisely where to be at any given point, on an expanse of land as big as – well, a football pitch – was uncanny.

Depending on any given circumstance in the game, Hojbjerg seemed able to glide into the optimal position to stick his oar into other people’s business. It mattered not whether we were in possession inside our own half, or just outside their area, or on the retreat as the other lot attacked – in much the same manner as one of those time-travelling robot assassins of Cyberdyne fame, Hojbjerg seemed able to whistle through a multitude of options in his head and instantly select the appropriate one, positioning himself accordingly.

At one point towards the end of the first half, first Reguilon and then Ndombele let possession slither away, and as the United dogs eagerly looked up for a counter-attack opportunity they were abruptly stopped by six feet and a few inches of pure Hojbjerg, stomping into view like one of those over-zealous doormen who are oddly averse to sitting down and discussing differences in the manner that decorum demands.

And if the situation called for those six feet and several inches to exert themselves in the muscle-and-sinew department. Hojbjerg was even more game, and at one point his enthusiasm for the lilywhite cause extended to an on-pitch celebration for a tackle by Serge Aurier. And how we have needed something like that at N17.

And then, as his piece de resistance, just when AANP thought that were no more worlds for the young Dane to conquer, he went and delivered – first time and with perfect weight – that pass inside the full-back that is the stuff of deities, to set up Aurier for his goal.

2. Kane Dropping Deep

As has been evidenced in recent weeks, Harry Kane, seems to have decided that he’s proved all he needs to prove in terms of goalscoring, and while everyone else gets on with the day-job he will throw in a spot of extra-curricular work in the Number 10 position.

The pass from the free-kick to release Son for one of the goals early on (let’s face it, it’s a struggle to remember them all, let alone their order) was the sort of stuff of which any lifelong, deep-lying creator would be proud.

He also pinged a couple of Hollywood balls into the path of Serge Aurier – although admittedly United’s defending was such that at times it seemed rude not to pick out Aurier – and even when not directly creating goalscoring opportunities, his tendency to stroll all the way back to halfway and even further gave the impression that here was an egg who was rather enjoying his latest hobby.

With Sonny the ever-willing runner ahead of him, and Lamela finding the whole thing an awfully good jape too, Kane’s drifts into deeper positions were pretty well complemented. Thrown Bale into the mix and I think we’re all going to need a stiff drink and a decent lie-down.

Not that Kane was going to neglect completely the meat and veg, and up he duly popped to score a poacher’s goal in the first half, and a trademark perfect penalty, into the side netting rather than the corner. All seemingly without breaking sweat.

On top of which, he, in common with various others – Lamela, Hojbjerg, Ndombele, Sonny, Aurier, Reguilon – was snapping at United heels like a man possessed from the off.

3. Aurier and Reguilon

Young Senor Reguilon had the sort of debut that will make the crowds gather and beg for more. Beating United 6-1 in their own backyard is pretty much beyond the stuff of dreams – but there it was for him, in black and white.

His own contribution seemed to pick up where he had left against Chelsea in midweek. The directive to go haring up the left-flank was one he seemed to receive as a small child might receive instruction to take whatever the hell he pleased from a sweetshop, and like some sort of little lamb in a nursery rhyme, whenever Sonny decided to stretch his legs on the inside left position, one could bet the mortgage that Regulon would be sure to go in a supporting role, five yards to the left.

Another feature of Reguilon’s game was more of that child-like enthusiasm in chasing down loose balls or opponents at every opportunity, as if absolutely desperate to impress his new paymasters. And quite rightly too, it’s the attitude one would expect from all in lilywhite. One hopes that experience does not diminish this youthful zeal.

On the other flank, Christmas came early for young Monsier Aurier, who was allowed to do whatever the hell he wanted all game. All of this was aided by United not really picking up the gist of the thing, and seemingly dealing with the problem by closing their eyes, putting their hands over their ears and singing loudly. In certain scenarios this counter-measure might prove effective, but today it did little to dent Aurier’s ambitions, and as well as multiple opportunities to cross he was also afforded enough time to score, which really is a nadir for any opposing defence.

Question marks over Aurier’s defending will presumably never disappear, but the suspicion remains that he considers himself an attacking sort, and when the opportunity arises to hit the final third he often delivers.

4. Lamela and the Dark Arts

Most self-respecting folk have had the good sense to acknowledge that rather than turn the game, the red card simply sped up the inevitable, whilst perhaps adding a dollop or two of good, honest comedy to the situation. Already in one heck of a pickle at that stage, United went through various stages of a toddler’s tantrum, by getting everything wrong, then sulkily giving up and then becoming rather aggressive – but at the time of the offence our lot were already leading, had missed multiple chances and were noticeably sharper in almost every area.

That said, the AANP view was that there could have been few complaints had Lamela also seen red. Presumably he didn’t because he struck the throat, whereas the other lad struck the face; and if countless John Grisham novels have taught me anything it’s that the devil is in the detail in these legal matters.

I suspect that not even the most committed United fan could ignore the irony of complaining about a harsh refereeing decision at Old Trafford, but there can be little doubt that our lot benefited a tad from this one (on almost the exact spot at which a missed handball allowed United to score past Heurelho Gomes several years back).

While the Sky studio pundits were racing through the various stages of grief at the whole spectacle, I did rather wonder what Our Glorious Leader made of Lamela’s sudden surrender to the charms of gravity.

One could be forgiven for having missed it, as it was not particularly widely publicised, but a certain channel recently aired a documentary of behind-the-scenes footage from N17, which was in places at least, eye-opening stuff. At one point, which does rather stick in the memory, Jose requested his troops – using the sort of fruity language that would make the elderly swoon, I don’t mind telling you – that they needed to be less courteous in how they went about things. Less pleasant. More unbecoming.

And so, when Lamela took his unseemly tumble, while hardly applauding the young bean, I did wonder if this were evidence of precisely that sort of uncouth stuff that Jose had craved. A small step, one might suggest, on the road to increasing the general savviness about the place – and maybe even winning a trophy?

There were plenty of other positives, and plenty of other highlights (Maguire hauling down Luke Shaw for the first goal; the sight of United players careering off into the wrong postcode every time Ndombele executed a turn; the fake crowd booing off United at half-time). Ultimately however, this has turned into one of our greatest weeks in recent memory. Bumping Chelsea out of the Carabao Cup; securing the Europa group stage with seven goals in the process; signing a striker of all things – and now sticking six past United at their own place.

How does one sum up that sort of narrative? Lads, it’s Tottenham.

Spurs 1-1 Newcastle: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. Lo Celso

Odd to say it now, but things started pretty swimmingly.

Our lot, without ever really purring into top gear, were on top throughout. There have been plenty of games in recent years when opponents have sat back to defend, and we have laboured accordingly, passing sideways and backwards without a glimmer of a chance – this was not one of those occasions. For sure we ought to have hit the bottom corners – no fantasy points are awarded to a player for hitting woodwork, blast it – but opportunities were at least being created at a fair old lick.

(It should be pointed out that Newcastle were absolutely appalling, seemingly incapable of executing even the most basic facets of the game.

Lob a ball gently at one of their lot, and it would bounce off them as if hitting a concrete wall. Invite them to roll a six-yard pass under no pressure, and they would instead ping the thing out of play. At one point one of their number tried to turn approximately ninety degrees in a clockwise direction – a skill that most able-bodied folk manage to execute breezily enough – but succeeded only in falling to earth like a collapsing tower, and, for added comedic value, grabbing the ball with his hand on his way down.)

No doubt Newcastle’s players are better than their performance today indicated, but even with our umpteen missed chances I did not at any point have the slightest concern about our profligacy (until Carroll biffed along, and the aerial bombardment began). Until that point there seemed no way on earth that Newcastle would trouble us. Bar the goalkeeper, collectively they had a stinker.

Back to our lot, and they put on show some pretty decent fare throughout. For this, I give much of the credit to Lo Celso. He might not necessarily be as naturally gifted as Christian Eriksen, but where Eriksen would quietly fade out of existence during games, Lo Celso, like some annoying, attention-seeking youth, seemed pretty eager to be at the centre of things.

Taking up a possession neatly in between midfield and attack, much of what was good went through his size nines, a sure sign that here was a bounder in no mood to shirk responsibility.

Moreover, he appears to be one of those rare beasts whose natural instinct on receiving the ball is automatically to pass forward. This might not sound particularly revolutionary, but after the diet of midfield sorts who seem intent on passing sideways or backwards as if their lives depend on it, this makes for pretty refreshing stuff.

Not every pass necessarily hit the mark, but as often as not he tried to pick an early pass in between defenders, for the attacking mob to run onto, and frankly it’s a joy to behold.

2. Winks’ Game of Two Halves

On the subject of sideways and backwards passing, in the first half young Master Winks did not miss many opportunities to swivel back towards home and roll the ball thither.

On occasion, this is certainly no bad thing, but against a Newcastle team both devoid of ideas and pretty lacking in talent this seemed pretty heavy stuff, and unnecessarily so. If Lo Celso’s instinct was always first to seek a forward pass, Winks’ was the opposite, as if created as the precise genetic inverse. It grated.

In Winks’ defence, one cannot fault his energy levels. If a man in lilywhite needed a chum within ten yards, Winks was doing the neighbourly thing. If the ball fell loose, Winks was the one racing in to pick up the scraps. It simply appeared, particularly in the first half, that he was misjudging the mood of the occasion, and adopting a safety-first approach when there was not a whiff of danger within a mile of the place.

Mercifully, whatever pleasantries were exchanged at half-time had a pretty positive effect, and in the second half young Winks emerged with a far more positive take on life. He did not dwell on the ball, nor did he attempt the outrageous, yet simply by playing simple, forward passes he increased the general fluency of the spectacle, and the world seemed a better place for it.

3. Ndombele’s Cameo

A topic of chatter amongst the thinkers of N17 is how both Lo Celso and Ndombele might be accommodated in the same team. At present, with Jose preferring two deeper-lying midfielders, it appears that only one or other can get the gig in the more advanced position.

While very different fish, both Lo Celso and Ndombele appear most effective when granted the licence to wander forward and do their damnedest. Lo Celso’s is a more energetic form of linking attacking and midfield, but Ndombele again showed, in his fifteen or so minutes, that his boots are made of pretty silken stuff.

If opportunity allows for a quick pass Ndombele does not hang around for the formalities, and it is potentially game-changing fare. His cute first-timers visibly rattle the opposing defence, and help create gaps that the mere mortal does not necessarily spot on an initial cursory glance.

Over the coming week, the fixture-list suggests that it will be one or t’other, with two defensive midfielders positioned behind them for solidarity; but in the longer-term one wonders whether Jose might ink his forearm, dye his hair blue and include both Lo Celso and Ndombele in the same eleven, while filming the whole thing on his phone and posting it on social media.

4. Kane Dropping Deep – The Future?

While the cute, eye-of-the-needle passes were the preserve of Messrs Lo Celso and Ndombele, Harry Kane continues to make his case for ultimately becoming Creator-in-Chief of this mob.

I’m not sure anyone in the squad can rival him for big, booming crossfield passes onto the very toe of a teammate, and as the last couple of games have illustrated, his vision and weight of passes typically leave his striking partner with little option but to roll the ball into the net.

One senses from his warblings over the last year that the coming 12 months are fairly critical to him, but should we retain his services in the longer-term, a future might beckon for him in a deeper, number 10 role – andI’m not sure many in the game would be better equipped for it.

5. Handball Rot

And so this dreary slab of nonsense. If, like AANP, you rather enjoying wiling away a couple of hours with the pleasures of an all-no-plot film, you may be familiar with that moment of oddly perfect calm displayed by a sort who realises he’s about to go the way of all flesh and pronto.

Andy Garcia in Black Rain, as an example, was pattering about the place trying to solve several of the world’s ills, until a chap with what appeared to be a samurai sword, of all the dashed things, made a beeline for him. And at that point Andy Garcia, realising his race was run, appeared entirely at peace with things and rather philosophically just accepted it (and promptly had his stem separated from its moorings).

I mention this because it was with that same philosophical calm that AANP exhaled, once the VAR routine kicked off in minute 90+5, and accepted that things were going to end badly. Where Jose stomped off, and Eric Dier presumably screamed out more choice expletives as loudly as comically possible in an empty, microphoned stadium, my sentiment was more along the Andy Garcia lines of “Well I can see where this is going, and there’s not a bally thing I can do about, so might as well just accept it.”

If you’ve toddled this way hoping for some fresh and original pearls on the matter I’m afraid that – much like Andy Garcia, and indeed Jose, Dier et al – you’re bang out of luck. The AANP sentiments are in common with most others. To summarise: the current handball law is a rummy one.

Some have grumbled that the referees ought to exercise common sense, but I’m not having that – if the rules are in place let’s at least apply them consistently so that everyone knows where they stand. I’ll happily throw a blunt object at anyone who argues otherwise on that one.

However, there are a couple of pointers I would lob into the mix. One is that the handball rule is apparently supposed to take into account the distance the ball travels before it reaches the offending limb. While, admittedly, I was not privy to the whisperings between officials as the decision was made, it seems a safe bet that on the issue of ‘Distance Travelled by Ball’ precious little dialogue was exchanged.

The other grumble from AANP Towers is that the award of the free-kick which led to the whole fandango was rummy in the extreme. Watch again and it rather appears that the Newcastle player in question plays a pass and then hurls his body headlong into Hojbjerg – for which curious sequence of events he is awarded a free-kick.

None of it counts for a great deal now, of course, but when the numbers are racked up at the end of the season, should we fall two points short of something exciting I wonder if we might look back on this afternoon and roll out some of Eric Dier’s most choice observations.

Southampton 2-5 Spurs: Four Tottenham Talking Points

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

1. Ndombele

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Lo Celso

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

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

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

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

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

3. Dele Alli

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

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

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

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

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

4. Son, Kane… and Bale

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

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

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

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

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

Sheff Utd 3-1 Spurs: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. The Exciting Front Four In The First Half!

Nothing like a jot of positivity before we get stuck into the gloom, what? And in that jolly vein, I thought that in the first half, going forward our lot had a decent dollop of oomph.

In that glorious first 45, possibly excluding the opening 5 or 10 in which Sheff Utd started stronger, the case was made for a front four sans Dele, at least when counter-attacking. Lucas, Bergwijn and particularly Son seemed each to derive a certain pleasure from getting their heads down, revving up the motor and haring away.

Where Dele dances and pirouettes and takes umpteen touches seemingly intent on slowing things down so that we might all take our seats and marvel at the Dele Alli Fancy Touches Show, these three were keener to get from A to B in the quickest time possible.

The disallowed goal, far from knocking the stuffing from us, seemed instead to pique our lot, and by the time the half-time toot sounded an equaliser, if not exactly an inevitability, looked a heck of a decent bet.

Admittedly, despite our 70% possession, on the two or three occasions on which our hosts set foot in our area they looked like scoring, but more about our defensive shambles anon. For one further sentence, let’s just marvel at the first half threat we occasionally posed!

2. Yet Another of the Worst Performances We Can Remember (Esp. The Defending)

Thereafter, alas, things took a lurch southwards, and the second half ranks as one of our worst since the 90s – or it would do if there weren’t so many poor performances this season alongside which it shuffles neatly into place. Brighton away and Leipzig spring immediately to mind, but I suspect that I’ve managed successfully to expunge a couple of other debacles from the loaf, through the cunning use of copious amounts of post-match bourbon.

Back to the second half. As soon as the players were released from the traps the set-up began to wobble like the dickens. We continued to have the bulk of possession, making it a smashing evening for fans of multiple-touch football and slow and ineffective passes.

It was a less triumphant affair for those who had rather hoped that our lot might fight tooth and nail for every loose ball. It should not be possible to be so obviously second best despite having twice as much possession, and yet there in full technicolour was the proof.

As if the impotent attacking play and general lack of fight were not enough, we were also treated to defending the like of which had us rubbing our eyes and wondering if some elaborate hoax were in effect. Despite having been under the watchful tutelage of that supposed master of the art of defending, Our Glorious Leader himself, for the past few months, our lot approached their defensive duties in the style of a troupe to whom the concept of football had been newly introduced only an hour or two earlier.

It began in the first half, as each time a United player set foot in our area, despite there being copious bodies back in the general vicinity, not one of them thought to close the blighter down. We got away with it once or twice, but when United scored their opener the chap did so having had the time to settle in and make a cup of tea beforehand, despite half our team being in situ in the penalty area.

And then it happened again for their second. The various Tottenham bodies scuttled back into the six yard box, and then actively ignored the whereabouts of either ball or opposing players. They simply loitered in their chosen spots and watched as the United lot freely sauntered into the gaping spaces.

What the dickens is Jose teaching them? What are they saying amongst themselves? How are these paid professionals quite so incapable of grasping the basics?

Time for a sit-down and a stiff drink.

3. Pretty Poor Stuff in Midfield Too

Nor was this solely a disaster for the back four, although the tactic of squashing themselves into a narrow line within the six yard box and hoping that nothing bad would happen beyond that was pretty peculiar stuff. The midfield played their part by virtue of letting United breeze through them at will when on the defensive, and offering precious little going forward.

Perhaps I do them an injustice, when one considers the first half. Lo Celso certainly didn’t offer much, happy to slink into the shadows when he really ought to have been bounding around screaming for the ball so that he could direct operations.

But Sissoko in the first half made a couple of rather odd forays into the limelight, demonstrating much that is good and bad about him, often in the same motion. More than once he picked up possession from deep and charged forward in that unstoppable fashion of his, only to reach the point at which a decision ought to be made and duly panicking, in that slightly comical fashion of his.

The pair of them were neither a defensive shield nor a font of attacking ideas, and by the second half they numbered amongst our numerous passengers.

(A note on the rarely-sighted Ndombele: not much reason either to laud or chide the fellow, but the one pass he played, for an offside Son to pop into the net, was a little reminder that he does have in his locker absolutely exquisite vision.)

4. Lamela and His Many, Many Touches

I happened to read the other day that Erik Lamela has been at the club something like six or seven years now, which is a pretty extraordinary act of misdirection on his part. How did he get away with that?

So often hinting at a game-changing trick or two, and always charging around with the very welcome sackfuls of aggression but also rather regrettably low intelligence of a wounded bull, the young bean yet again expended a lot of energy without delivering anything of note.

Heaven knows how he fares in those training ground exercises in which only one or two consecutive touches are allowed, because he wanders the pitch with the air of one who was deprived of his own ball as a child, and now insists on keeping it to himself for as long as possible, before being swarmed upon by opponents.

Lockdown has been a test for all of us, but few things have driven me to swear out loud within an empty room like the sight of Lamela taking umpteen more touches than is necessary before messing up the end-product.

5. VAR – Not A Game-Changer, As We Were Perfectly Rubbish Without It, But Still Odd

Few right-minded folk will stomp their feet with too much animation about the VAR decisions, given how bad we were thereafter, but as ever the decisions did make one scratch the head and wonder if the point of spotting clear and obvious errors has been lost somewhat.

With respect to the disallowed goal, eggs is eggs and rules, unfortunately, are rules. Deliberate or not, fouled or not, if the ball hit Lucas’ hand then the case for the prosecution can sign off early. An iffy rule no doubt, but the honest souls paid to watch on a screen and make a decision are only carrying out orders.

My objection, rather, was that it did not appear 100% – or, to you use the parlance de jour, it was not “clear and obvious” – that the ball struck the hand/arm of Lucas at all. A case could be made that it did, a case could be made that it did not, but clear and obvious it was not. (And of course, it should have restarted with a free-kick.)

I was equally miffed that a moment or two later a Sheff Utd player (Norwood?) who had only just been booked escaped scot-free having taken a look at Sonny, raised an arm and given him a healthy clobbering to the head. A straight red card in the AANP book of such things, and even when looked at more objectively it might have been deemed a second yellow; but such is life’s rich tapestry.

Let none of it distract minds, however, from the fact that we were utter garbage and our defence is populated by incompetents.

Spurs 2-0 West Ham: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Kane Getting Back Up to Speed

This whole thing was a marked improvement on the previous grilling, vs Man Utd – which admittedly was not difficult, given how low we set the bar on that occasion – and as Kane motored off into the distance to pop the cherry on things it struck me that his individual performance loosely summed up the general gist of things.

Against Man Utd he had barely registered his participation, seeming to serve decorative value only and appearing to have forgotten many of the basics of physics whenever involved in the action, judging by his negligible ball control and pretty severe case of the huffs and puffs when required to move. Similarly, our lot as a whole seemed unfit, devoid of ideas and pretty content to tick the box marked ‘Passive’ rather than ‘Active’.

Yesterday, however, Kane gave a pretty good impression of one who, if not necessarily firing on every conceivable cylinder, was nevertheless giving the engine a pretty thorough going-over – and indeed, the team as a whole at least seemed to peddle a bit more ambition than before, albeit against pretty limited opposition.

Those keenly observing Kane’s performance, with checklist in hand and pen at the ready, were kept well involved throughout. There were early hints that his memories of former glories were returning, as in the first half he pinged a shot from distance and then spread play to the wings – with the outside of his boot, no less – both pretty sure signs that, having been kept hidden from view against Man Utd, the Kane of old was making a bid for freedom here.

It continued in the second half with a lung-busting sprint of all things. Admittedly this ended in anticlimactic fashion, with him dragging his shot wide, but nevertheless, for a chap whose likeliest weakness is probably a lack of pace, the sight of him overtaking various defenders as he hared towards the penalty area would no doubt have had some pretty knowing looks exchanged in living rooms across the country.

And as if to emphasise the point, he did near enough the same thing again ten minutes later, but to better effect. The weighting of Sonny’s pass helped no end, meaning as it did that there was little need to break stride or take too many touches, but Kane’s hamstrings still held up well to the rigours of a dash towards goal, and his finish made the whole thing look vastly more straightforward than it was.

He then lay on the ground for around a minute refilling his lungs, but one can excuse that. It might not quite be peak Kane just yet, but this was far brighter stuff than I had dared hope.

2. Dele’s Free(Ish) Role

After West Ham’s initial ten-minute surge had gone up in smoke, and possession was ours to do with as we pleased, the game gradually settled into that age-old conundrum of how to break down two banks of four that have set up camp and desire little more in life than to remain that way with net untroubled.

A pretty convoluted plan seemed to have been concocted in this respect, with The Brains Trust deciding to cut their losses on Aurier by stationing him up the pitch as a right winger, thereby minimising his capacity to produce the calamitous within shooting distance of his own goal.

Meanwhile on t’other flank Ben Davies had presumably been fitted with one of those tagging devices that prevented him from mooching too far beyond the halfway line.

All of which meant that Sonny was our sole representative on the left flank and therefore had limited opportunity to cut infield and hare towards goal, and the AANP was left swimming a bit as it tried to work out the mechanics of the whole thing.

In short however, all the tactical scrawls in the world could not disguise the fact that our lot were pretty ponderous in possession – neither shifting the ball quickly when they had it, nor moving enough off the ball when they didn’t.

The pleasing exception to this rigidity was Dele. Whether under instruction to do so or simply exercising his autonomy and going where he pleased, as young folk will do, the rascal floated hither and thither, and by so-doing added a drop of the unexpected to our gentle probings.

Only a drop, mind. There was much of the inside left about his role, but when opportunity arose he seemed to go for a wander into pockets of space – on one such occasion inviting a lovely through ball from Davies, who had evidently broken his own positional diktat to wander up the pitch, and Dele was away in the penalty area.

The young egg’s swagger was also in evidence once again, with drag-backs and flicks aplenty. This can grate a little – there is, after all, a time and a place for such nonsense – but in general I thought he struck the right balance, injecting a little spontaneity into our attacking play that otherwise was pretty heavily steeped in the monotony of sideways passing.

It was a shame for him that he was hooked early in the second half, just as the game began to open up and the fun to start, but this constituted a decent innings on his return to the side.

3. Lo Celso Easing Into The Groove

The Man of the Match gong was officially awarded to Lo Celso, which was reasonable enough, but there is certainly more to come from the chap.

In the first half in particular, when, as mentioned above, we laboured to precious little effect, I thought we might have benefitted from grabbing the lad by his armpits, hoisting him into the air and depositing him some twenty yards further up the pitch, to sprinkle some mischief. In a world of sideways pass upon sideways pass, the vision and technique of Lo Celso makes him stand out as one of the few amongst us who might magic a chance out of nothing.

Indeed, on the one occasion that he did make it to the heady heights of the edge of the West Ham area his jinking feet made an instant impact, creating the chance for Sonny that was ruled out.

As the game became rather more stretched in the second half he became more prominent, able to indulge his partiality for embarking on a gentle gallop with ball at feet. One suspects he will be a pretty significant presence within the Mourinho vintage.

4. Ndombele – Persona Non Grata

There were other, low-key points of note – Sissoko became more dominant as the game progressed, Aurier not for the first time seemed rather to enjoy life without all that defensive nonsense burdening him – but one of the more significant developments of the evening was the conspicuous absence of a certain member of the troupe.

What future for Tanguy Ndombele in lilywhite? Fit enough for the elongated bench, but presumably not rated highly enough even for a late cameo to add some protection to midfield (young Master Winks instead thrown on for the final few minutes, to play the role of burly doorman), a betting man would presumably steer well clear of any wager on Ndombele to be the fulcrum around which the team is built.

Much was made pre-lockdown of Ndombele’s rather alarming lack of puff, and the young bean’s training regime during lockdown received similarly hefty coverage. As such, I suspect I was not the only one eagerly awaiting the sight of him emerging trim and buoyant, newly entrusted by Jose to turn defence into attack.

The reality appears vastly at odds with this scenario. The shape of the things in the immediate future appears to include the move of Dier back into defence, Sissoko and Winks as the more trusted deep-lying sorts, and Lo Celso pulling strings for the headline-seekers in attack – with Ndombele left to socially distance in the stands.

With games coming thick and fast in coming weeks one would expect that he’ll be beckoned to the fore at some point, but if the first two games are indicators of how Jose sees the world – and there’s every reason to interpret them as such – then this new normal does not appear to include Ndombele.

Spurs – Man Utd Preview: 4 Tottenham Talking Points

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

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

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

1. Jose’s Tactics

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

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

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

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

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

2. Injuries No More (Almost)

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

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

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

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

3. Kane And The Need to Hit The Ground Running

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

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

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

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

4. An Improved (And Fit) Ndombele?

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

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

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

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

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

Burnley 1-1 Spurs: Six Tottenham Talking Points

I hesitate to say it goes from bad to worse, because we went into this one on the back of a home defeat to relegation fodder after which one of our number waded in to throttle a ‘fan’. So strictly speaking this was a marked improvement, given that no defeat was recorded and relationships between players and fans appeared to be in perfect harmony.

Nevertheless, it does not require particularly forensic analysis to identify that this was again pretty limp stuff.

1. Ndombele (And Jose’s Treatment Of The Chap)

As is often the case, Our Glorious Leader appeared to have given more thought to his post-match narrative than to righting the multiple wrongs on the pitch, with few left in doubt about the identify of the latest scapegoat de jour.

Monsieur Ndombele was the unlucky punter, suffering the twin ignominies of being hooked at half-time and then given both barrels by Jose at the press conference.

One understands the frustration. When we bought the young egg last summer the trailers advertised a pretty dominating sort, capable of muscling his way onto the ball, weaving past all-comers and then splitting defences as if shelling peas.

And rather gallingly, the evidence has actually hinted that the young man’s locker does indeed contain all of the aforementioned. It’s all just packed away so tightly that he seems to require special dispensation to access it, if you get my drift.

Each appearance will feature a few choice flashes of his talents, as if to tease seasoned watchers into thinking the reincarnation of Mousa Dembele walks amongst us, but it all occurs in such fitful manner that invariably we depart murmuring frustrations at his inability to produce his act on something close to a 24-7 basis.

Yesterday was a particularly egregious example. Ndombele was sound if unspectacular in his passing, and on a couple of occasions attempted that neat trick of wriggling out of pretty confined spaces, but in the area of busting a gut to win possession from the Burnley midfield he was notably absent, and his removal from proceedings, if maybe a tad extreme, was certainly understandable.

The chap’s fitness – or lack thereof – continues to startle, a good six months after he joined, but then these millionaire professional athletes will move in mysterious ways their wonders to perform. And a distinctive feature of the mysterious way in which Ndombele moves is that it all happens at approximately half the speed of the average footballer, and ends with him panting as if upon death’s door, which contributes in no small amount to opposing midfielders cantering away from him at will.

Here at AANP Towers we’re not entirely convinced that Jose’s repeated public castigation of the chap is quite the optimal way to manage him – but one might argue firstly that Jose has a dashed sight more experience in such matters than I; and secondly that it really doesn’t matter what I think because my influence in Jose’s behavioural choices appears strangely limited.

2. Skipp

So while Ndombele was being pelted with rotten fruit, his midfield partner of the first half walked away with not a blemish on his record.

I cannot profess to having ever been particularly awestruck by the performances of young O. Skipp Esquire. “Earnest and Nervous” about sums him up in my book, a chap who might consider himself a tad fortunate to be in the first team squad – and conducts himself as if he thinks along identical lines.

I actually thought that his midweek jolly against Norwich was one of his finest in lilywhite. Admittedly the competition in this department is hardly stiff, but we needed a midfielder who might put in a tackle or two and he did his best to oblige (albeit not to the extent that it stopped Norwich looking pretty comfortable in possession against us – a statement that pretty much sums up the state of things). On top of which Skipp is hardly one of life’s great risk-takers when it comes to demanding or using possession, striking me as more Harry Winks than Harry Winks himself.

That was against Norwich; yesterday against Burnley he seemed barely to be involved. In his defence two hours of energy exerted midweek presumably took its toll, on top of which his midfield partner, as mentioned above, was himself hardly a bundle of energy. However, Skipp’s presence yesterday appeared to be for little more than decorative value.

If this were his chance to cement a spot in the team, I suspect his argument might well be that he wasn’t actually there, and few who witnessed proceedings would be able to recall evidence to the contrary.

Jose, however, was having none of it, and exonerated the young pup of all blame. One awaits with curiosity to see whether actions match these words when it comes to future selections.

3. Dele Alli Upfront

An administrative error in each of the last umpteen transfer windows having left us short of a legally qualified striker, and Lucas Moura having been run into the ground in recent weeks, Dele Alli was the poor sap square-pegged into service atop the formation yesterday, and it was hard not to feel for him.

He went about it gamely enough, reasoning that, irrespective of his nominal position he was still Dele Alli and must therefore try to backheel and nutmeg his way through proceedings, and was only a heartbeat away from doing so to goalscoring effect as early as the first minute.

In general however he was limited by simply not having been on the roster when Mother Nature was carving out strikers. Service hardly overflowed, but whenever my best mate Jan did whip in a cross, Dele’s approach to life betrayed that of a man more accustomed to making a late burst into the box rather than being the focal point of attack.

He, Lamela and Bergwijn did their best to one-two their way to glory, but it was all rather narrow and intricate, and in the first half at least, Burnley were not unduly threatened.

4. Second Half Improvement

Mercifully things improved after half-time. Whether this was due to the change in personnel or formation is debatable, and convincing cases could be made for both lines of argument.

The switch to a back four meant that our midfield population increased significantly; the presence of Lo Celso brought a hitherto unseen creative spark.

I dare not ask Eric Dier what he made of being shunted from centre-back to defensive midfield, but he made a good enough fist of it that young Skipp might have been advised to take a shorthand note or two; and if Lucas were aggrieved that his evening off had been rudely interrupted he did not show it, and in fact gave a convincing impression of a domestic dog being allowed a bonus run in the park, bounding around with energy and to pretty decent effect.

In short however, all that was good tended to emanate from Lo Celso, and the others simply followed his lead. The equaliser, on balance, was deserved, and it was just a shame that some encouraging second half attacks did not bear the fruit that seemed possible.

5. Sanchez – Something Of A Shocker

For fairly understandable reasons Our Glorious Leader began with a back three, and indeed a total of five centre backs across the width of the pitch, which rather telegraphed his expectation that we were in for an aerial joust.

One understood the logic, but unfortunately Davinson Sanchez seemed to have identified 7 March 2020 to be as good a date as any other to peddle the very worst he had to offer.

In recent weeks I have actually identified the chap as one of the brighter performers, but yesterday’s was a pretty wild deviation from this contemporary history.

His inability to judge a flighted cross seems ingrained into his DNA, so these moments, while unwelcome, at least did not surprise. However, seeing him outmuscled, dispossessed and tripping over his own feet was as unpleasant as it was unexpected, and although lines of communication generally appeared to have been cut between him and the rest of the defence, Messrs Alderweireld, Dier and Tanganga were at least sufficiently savvy to come flying in with last-ditch interceptions that maintained a level of decency.

6. Random Right-Wing Serge Aurier

With the game in the balance in the final stages, and substitute options limited, Jose stuck out his tongue at all those critics who accuse him of being out of touch with the modern game by not just thinking outside the box but removing himself from the box completely and throwing into the recycling bin, with the introduction of Serge Aurier into a right-wing role.

There is a precedent of sorts in lilywhite, as I recall Danny Rose having occasionally been stationed ahead of, say, Ben Davies, out on the left-wing, but nevertheless I would not be deceiving my public to say that the sight of Aurier galloping into position ahead of Tanganga left me momentarily stunned.

In theory however, such a move made a lot of sense. As we are all now well aware, Aurier’s impeccable sense of calamity makes him quite the liability at right-back; whereas if his compass points north he offers a handy attacking threat, being one of the better purveyors of whipped crosses on the market. Stationing him in a right-wing role for twenty minutes therefore removes the Con while retaining the Pro, so to speak.

And in practice too, as it happened, the move had much to recommend it. Lucas shuffled off into the centre, and Aurier seemed eager to get stuck in, offering decent link-up play, decent pace and one or two of those crosses.

One idly speculates what went through Gedson’s mind as all this unfolded, but the cameo was certainly innovative, and, in a way that unfortunately rather sums up how far we have sunk, was probably one of the highlights of the evening.

Calling Spurs fans from the ‘60s – I’d love you to contribute to my latest book on Tottenham fans’ favourite players. Just leave a comment below, drop me a line at aanp1999@gmail.com, or tweet @aanp_spurs

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.

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