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Spurs match reports

Spurs 3-2 Brentford: Three Tottenham Talking Points

1. Udogie

Not unusually for our lot this was a performance high on action and low on plot, the chaotic whole perhaps best represented by the various triumphs and misadventures of Destiny Udogie.

Taking things on a scale of Ripping to Ghastly, Udogie’s attacking inputs were productive and bountiful. There was more to it than just his goals: in the opening fifteen minutes or so, when we looked a good bet for the usual early salvo, Udogie was one of those at the forefront of the intricate pass-and-move stuff being furiously marketed.

Naturally, however, his role in our goals attracts the eye, and for both our first and third he was front and centre, albeit slightly off to the left.

Having laboured for so much of the first half against a deep-set and heavily fortified Brentford defence, I’m not quite sure how it came to pass in the first ten minutes of the second half that we kept catching them out of position, undermanned and generally disorganised and tripping over one another, but there we were. Gift-horses and all that.

And given this situation Udogie set about them with the relish of one who had elbowed his way to the front of the queue and could barely wait to be let loose. Udogie on the charge really is one of the finer sights in nature, a terrific combination of pace, technique, awareness, muscle and other wholesome stuff. When the call goes out for volunteers to stop the man in his tracks I can assure you that AANP would keep his head down and surreptitiously shuffle off into the background, and the Brentford mob similarly seemed not really to relish the fight.

For both our first and third goals, the marvellous specimen collected the ball around halfway and motored off towards the penalty area. For the first, having got this far and popped the thing off to Werner, he did not ease off with the air of one content with his night’s work and ready for a spot of refreshment, but treated the job as very much half-done and carried on sprinting. No doubt he benefited from a spot of bright and breezy fortune at that point – Brentford legs converging and the ball rebounding pretty kindly for him – but when one exhibits so many of the critical traits of an unstoppable force of nature, I tend to think that one earns a spot of luck.

And then, being one of those eggs who lives by the principle that if a thing works once it might as well be milked for a few more helpings of the good stuff, seven minutes later he set off on the charge again, sticking to the same geographical route – halfway line, left off centre – and opting to release the ball at pretty much the same moment.

At this point he did deviate from the blueprint, but it proved a strong choice, opting not to pass left to Werner but instead threading a pretty precise little number into Maddison in the penalty area, where further riches were to follow.

So three cheers for Udogie when gripped by the urge to make merry in the Brentford half; but by golly he did leave a trail of catastrophe behind him. In the first place the Brentford opener had at its genesis his misdirected pass on halfway. Under no pressure and with pretty much the entire cast list to aim at, it was careless in the extreme, what the racket-wielding folk refer to as an unforced error.

There is a sense in which that mistake for the first was considerably worse than that for the second, as the first was the sort you’d file under ‘Poor Play’, while the second seemed more along the lines of ‘Failing to Spot A Camouflaged Opponent’, which let’s face it, is one of the more unique categories around and not the sort of eventuality for which one trains.

Anyway, fail to spot him he did, and what ought to have been a bit of a cakewalk turned into the classic Nervous Final 20 At The Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. All’s well that ends well of course, and young Signor Udogie remains a particular favourite around these parts, but the urge to load up, take careful aim and fire into our own feet remains bizarrely strong around the on-field practitioners of N17.

2. The Defence in General

Udogie may have stolen the limelight when it came to knuckle-headed decisions, but watching Brentford repeatedly stroll unaccompanied through our half of the pitch and right up into our penalty area, in the first half, did reiterate that nagging sensation at AANP Towers that something might not be quite right with our defence.

As individuals, each of VDV, Romero, Porro and Udogie are top-notch, bursting at the seams with all manner of qualities. However, shove them together and instruct them to Angeball for an hour and a half, and they pretty swiftly degenerate into a quartet of drunks unclear what sport they are playing.

I suppose part of the challenge is Our Glorious Leader’s instructions, which seem to be along the lines that when one of the quartet is in possession, at least two of the others ought to leave their designated posts and go find some space elsewhere. To call this laden with risk is to understate the thing. It only takes one casually misplaced pass, a la Udogie last night and the opposition is away, with half a pitch to gallop into unopposed.

Brentford had clearly not just received the memo but had put in a fair amount of time studying it and turning it into a complete thesis, and as a result pressed our back-four at every opportunity. In turn, our back-four, diligently sticking to the values of Angeball, kept dicing with death – trying to pirouette around the opponent and so forth – achieving a success rate of approximately 50%.

As well as this business of losing possession on halfway and sprinting back to try saving the day in the nick of time, I also noted the pretty dubious behaviour of Cristian Romero in Brentford’s first goal. Having done the hard work of keeping pace with – and indeed gaining some ground on – Toney, rather than finish the job by steaming across and executing some form of meaty block, Romero opted to hold his line and give Toney a free hit at goal, which seemed unnecessarily generous.

In Romero’s defence, I understood the rationale – he presumably wanting to prevent a square pass to the onrushing Maupay, and banking on VDV’s pace take care of Toney. Nevertheless, it did strike me that he slathered on the business of backing off a bit too heavily. The key to the manoeuvre ought to have been subtlety, in edging towards Toney whilst keeping a watchful eye on Maupay, thereby keeping Toney in two minds. Instead, he might as well have hired one of those planes to fly over the stadium with a banner proclaiming that he was going to back right off Toney and block the pass, so if Toney wanted to get his shot off then the floor was his. I did not approve.

And my mood darkened further after Vicario saved the shot, as Romero simply slackened the shoulders and downed tools, evidently of the opinion that he had played his part in the scene, and the leftovers could be taken care of by those around him. It was quite the dereliction of duty, and an odd one coming from a chappie who does not seem himself unless flying full-blooded into some challenge or other, but off he clocked and Maupay seized the moment.

The curious lapses from Romero and Udogie can, I suppose, be excused as human error; but this business of being caught on halfway and then duking it out in a sprint to goal is rather more structural. It appears that we are stuck with it, however, as just one of those consequences of Angeball, the only remedy for which is simply to keep scoring more than the other lot, which should be a wheeze.

3. Werner

Fair to say it’s been a slightly underwhelming start to life in lilywhite for Herr Werner. He seems enthusiastic enough, and is obviously blessed with the ability to motor from A to B at a fair old lick, but once he’s got himself into a dangerous position he seems not quite to know what do next (or, in the case of shooting, how to do it). The general impression is of one whose northernmost tip simply cannot keep up with his southernmost base, those whirring little legs outpacing his brain each time.  

The vexing trend continued in the first half yesterday. Presumably under instruction, both he and Kulusevski tucked inside, to relatively narrow positions, which seemed right up Brentford’s street, and in general he seemed to pick wrong options.

However, life improved considerably in the second half. In the build-up to our first goal he pulled his usual trick of racing off into the distance in a puff of smoke, but where previously he has stuttered, and paused, and had a bit of a think, and then a bit of an overthink, this time he was a bit more committed in his conclusion, cutting back, sidestepping a couple of defenders and feeding young Udogie.

This seemed to do the chap a world of good. When released again a minute or so later he took it as his cue to deliver his finest moment yet in our colours, racing off again as is his preference, but then eschewing the usual option of slowing things down to pick through his options, and instead firing the ball across goal with a note pinned to it on which was scrawled the invitation ‘Tap me into the empty net, bitte’. Young Master Johnson duly licked his lips in the centre.

That particular sequence earned Werner a spontaneous ovation from AANP Towers. The obsession with inverted wingers, forever cutting inside to deliver their produce, has its value no doubt, but given that Werner’s pace will generally position him a yard ahead of his man, it does madden me somewhat that he repeatedly sacrifices that yard in order to cut back onto his right foot. There was no such rot last night for the second goal – once Werner was away, he evidenced a show of faith in his lesser-spotted left foot and it worked out splendidly for all concerned.

As with Kulusevski when stationed on the right, I yearn for him to display a bit more confidence in his weaker foot – and I do scratch the head and wonder how an elite-level player can get by in life with such reluctance to use it – but last night’s rich harvest ought to give him a spot of the old oil on this front.

And as a valedictory note, marvellous to observe that the resurgence of Richarlison continues apace, his goal arguably the least emphatic contribution of a night that included a decent repertoire of hold-up and link-up play.

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Spurs match reports

Spurs 0-1 Man City: Three Tottenham Talking Points

1. Vicario and The Goal

The fires of righteous indignation were blazing away like nobody’s business amongst vast swathes of lilywhites after that City goal, with “Foul play!” the principal anthem howled. One understands the sentiment, given that the City chappie was dancing a pretty intimate number with Vicario, but the sentiment at AANP Towers was to give the shoulders a shrug. Seen them given of course, but tend to roll the eyes skywards when they are.

‘Football-playing folk will inevitably bump limbs’ was the official line around these parts, and as the chap’s arms and elbows maintained a relatively conservative existence during the episode, rather than being flailed abaft the head in overly reckless fashion, I was pretty sanguine about the challenge. Spitting feathers and blood boiling at the concession of a late winner of course, ranting and blaspheming into the night sky at that, but not particularly outraged about the decision of the judiciary.  

Rather than launch into a passionate diatribe about the indignity of having his path hindered, I would have much preferred Vicario to have taken the more rudimentary approach in the first place of Cleaning Out Everyone In Front Of Him and Punching The Ball To Kingdom Come. Less scope for perceived injustices that way.

To his credit Vicario did actually get a fist to the thing, despite that City rascal whispering sweet nothings in his ear. His contact was hardly of the Kingdom Come variety, but he might nevertheless feel that he had put in place the basics and could reasonably look to a nearby associate to firm the thing up. It was rather a shame, then, that this part of the procedure having been ticked off, the ball bounced off the back of young Van de Ven, who seemed rather astonished to find himself in the vicinity, and neatly into the airspace of that Ake fellow.

Thereafter there was not much to be done, but with the dust having settled I hope that young Vicario, in his quieter moments, decides to focus his thousand hours of practice on that aforementioned art of C.O.E.I.F.O.H.A.P.T.B.T.K.C. Because in most other areas the chap seems well in control of matters – playing the ball from feet when under pressure, shot-stopping, and so forth. Indeed, these very qualities were proudly advertised on Friday night – City’s press being of the intense variety, and their shots low and punchy. As such, one would not want opponents to sniff a weakness at set-pieces and accordingly crowd and jostle our gate-keeper to within an inch of his life each time. Remedy that chink in the armour, young man.

2. Van de Ven (and Udogie)

Alongside Vicario, young Van de Ven struck me as one of the more impressive of our number. A blessed relief to have him back, for his composure and comfort in possession in the first place, but also, as he rather pointedly emphasised on several occasions, for his red-face-sparing pace, that allows him to save the day time and again, with the well-judged skin-of-the-teeth timing that is the hallmark of so many of life’s finest action heroes.

We muddled through with varying degrees of success without him, but having him back at times feels like having a twelfth player in the ranks. (As it happens, I feel similarly when casting the beady eye upon former N17 parishoner Kyler Walker.) That is to say, the day-job entails performing all the duties of any self-respecting centre-back, but, blessed with jet-heeled pace, young VDV is also able to masquerade as something of a sweeper, racing in from wherever he may be when emergency arises, to act as last line of defence and give it that Kingdom Come treatment. This flexibility was displayed against both Foden in the first half and De Bruyne in the second, to name but two instances, and is a mightily useful bonus string to the bow.

And while on the subject of those who performed adequately enough I might as well direct an admiring whistle towards young Signor Udogie, whose offensive and defensive mechanics both appeared to be in fine working order. Admittedly City had a bit too much joy down their left/our right in the first half, but when Udogie was put to the test in one-on-one combat he tended to deploy either or both of his speed and upper-body strength, as appropriate and to good effect. All a bit futile in the final analysis, but one ought to record such things.

3. Absent Friends

Whichever bean it was who came up with the gag that absence makes the heart grow fonder was clearly quite the football aficionado. It’s a maxim that has heightened the standing of many a Spurs player, from Gil and Winks to Sammways and Nayim, and while some of the aforementioned may have underwhelmed a tad when eventually given their opportunity, on Friday night it was with some legitimacy that I bemoaned the ongoing absences of Sarr, Son and Maddison (and, to an extent, Bissouma).

That midfield in particular needed a bit of guile and mischief. Bentancur, as ever, was doing a fine job of availing himself for passes from the centre-backs, and, despite the rather impatient intrusions from City’s forwards, upon receipt calmly spraying the ball to safe zones; but further forward for approximately an hour we did rather scream out for Maddison.

As has been remarked fairly widely, on a few occasions, various of our heroes overlooked the opportunity to release Herr Werner into wide open spaces, and I suppose one never really knows quite how things would have played out in an alternate universe, but one does moodily mutter that Maddison might have picked him out a bit more cannily than those honoured with selection from the start.

Sarr similarly would have been an asset, with Hojbjerg demonstrating once again that being an adequate sub to see out the final fifteen against a side from the bottom half does not really equate to being the measure of the best team on the planet; and seeing our lot labour to create or finish a decent chance worthy of the name I did also lament the ongoing absence of Sonny.

I suppose it’s more important that we stay in touch with the popular kids in the Title race (or Top Four/Five race if you prefer), than that we turn over Man City of all teams in the Cup. Despite the fact that lamentations towards the absence of a trophy ring louder at AANP Towers than in most places, I’d still take a loss against City at home in an early round of the Cup if we can instead turn them over in a few weeks’ time in the League. And as Our Glorious Leader loosely put it, there’s no huge shame in losing to that lot when they’re a good few years ahead of us in their development (and bank balance – witness them flinging on De Bruyne and Doku, and not even bothering to fling on Grealish, while we had the luxury of Dane Scarlett as our In Case of Emergency call).

So the frustration at the continued absences of key players ought not to be over-egged much further, but as one by one they slip back into the fold, by golly I hope, and to an extent envisage, that we can recreate that early season run of wins.

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Spurs match reports

Man Utd 2-2 Spurs: Three Tottenham Talking Points

1. Defence

Of course the return of Romero and VDV meant that the beady eye was on the Back Four from the off, eagerly watching the pair of them to check that all parts were in working order and good as new. However, events of the first half in particular rather shifted the gaze away from the central two, specifically about ten yards to their right, where time and again – and not for the first time this season – Pedro Porro achieved the remarkable feat of somehow appearing outnumbered in one-on-one situations.

This business of our back four defending narrowly, and allowing the opposition left wingers as much space as they fancy, keeps AANP up into the wee small hours with a mightily concerned frown. One understands that Ange-ball generally requires Porro to be loitering well in advance of the centre-backs when we’re in possession – meaning that when we lose the thing and our counter-attacked, he is generally a few yards out of position. One understands that opponents have cottoned on, and will generally look to shove a forward into this vacant space with the instruction ‘Make hay’ scrawled across their notepad.

So I suppose we’ll just have to bite the bullet to an extent, and accept that unless we surreptitiously stick a twelfth player out in the right-back area, we’ll be a tad vulnerable over there. But still. Once Porro is being sized up by an opposing attacker, I’d have thought it would make some sense to shove a reinforcement or two towards him. To the credit of whomever it concerns, this was duly done in the second half, Romero evidently regarding as a matter of urgency the need to toddle over and a bit of background muscle to Porro’s exchanges with Rashford or whomever.

But by then the damage had been done. Twice, in fact. Any opposing attacker with a trick or two in his box seems to stand a 50-50 chance of besting Porro and doing a spot of damage, and the Rashford eyes lit up in that first half. An isolated Porro, while not exactly a lamb to the slaughter, was certainly a lamb giving a nervous gulp or two.

Mightily annoying it was too, because but for those counter-attacks honed in on their left/our right, I didn’t think United had much about them. And for avoidance of misunderstanding, Porro’s delivery at times has the innocent onlooker absolutely purring, so this is by no means a call for punitive action against the solid young bean.

Back to VDV and Romero, and their mere presence did much to soothe what has been a pretty jittery AANP over the last couple of months. Romero missed few opportunities to put an end to a fledgling United attack with a well-timed and hefty size nine; VDV showed few signs of having forgotten how to ease from Trot to Sprint in the blink of an eye – it was good to have the pair back.

That said, neither were necessarily faultless. If one were to quibble they might ask whether Romero could have done more to prevent the first goal; and he also, as one would expect, took his opportunity to crunch the life out of a United sort near halfway. As for VDV, at one point in the first half he seemed consumed by the desire to dribble past a United forward right outside our own area, disappearing into quite the hole and requiring a spot of dustpan-and-brushing from a passing Bentancur.

But by and large the pair were watchful in defence and at times outstanding in possession – not least in the fabulous pass straight through the middle from Romero to Skipp, that set in motion our second. Nice to see live evidence too that the lad Dragusin is not one whose drink you would want to spill. All muscle and brawn, that lad.

2. The Midfield

It rather slipped under the AANP radar quite how light we were in midfield, but when the cast-list was announced the colour did rather drain from the face on seeing the names ‘Hojbjerg’ and ‘Skipp’ etched in alongside ‘Bentancur’.

The sagging of spirits was briefly paused in the opening exchanges, however, to be replaced by a pretty surprised raise of the eyebrow, as I tried to digest the sight of young Skipp seemingly being the furthest forward of the trio. Someone had to do it I suppose, and Skipp is nothing if not willing.

His was a fairly standard Skipp performance, which I thought was neatly encapsulated by his role in our second goal – oozing with the energy to receive Romero’s pass and set off over halfway, before almost gumming up the operation by sending his own pass the wrong side of Werner.

Now in Skipp’s defence he did ping one of the most scrumptious passes of the season towards the end of the first half, absolutely lashing a first-time volley from right of centre out towards the left wing, for an approving chum to race onto without breaking stride. AANP raised a glass to that one. But such a moment of quality was better filed under ‘Exception’ rather than ‘Norm’.

Bentancur, of course, purred his way through the entirety, as one would expect. At one point I heard the fellow on the telly-box describe him as “Knitting things together”, which I thought put it rather well.

And he took his goal mightily impressively too. Fool that I am, I had already flung the hands heavenward in agony at what I thought was a missed opportunity when he opted to take a second forward touch in the United six yard box rather than shooting there and then. I should have known better. Bentancur was in supreme control, and emphasised the fact by using his third touch to pointedly lash the thing into the roof of the net.

The third of the midfield triumvirate was Hojbjerg, who tends usually to hover between ‘Good’ and ‘Needs Improvement’ on the scale of these things. I thought he started pretty well, and AANP accordingly settled down for one of his better days. Aided, as anyone would be, by the presence of Bentancur alongside him, he seemed to use the ball sensibly enough; but towards the latter stages I though he slightly forgot the point of the exercise and began littering the place with misplaced passes and whatnot.

Aside from the individual offerings, there was a rather gaping hole when it came to a spot of creative spark from midfield, but I suppose if you take a perfectly strong squad and rip from it the three prime suspects in the field of Making Things Happen From The Centre, then one has to expect a decent helping of sideways passing and head-scratching.

3. Werner

In general one got the impression that our heroes were the better team, as evidenced by some lovely fluid passing from the rear-guard mob to the attacking mob, but there persisted throughout the nagging feeling that in matters of final third quality, the well was a little dry.

Young Johnson has spent the last few months doing all the hard work before making a solid mess of the final output, and lest anyone had needed reminding of this tendency he took every opportunity to demonstrate it again today. Now it should not be forgotten that he has chipped in with various critical passes creating goals in recent weeks, as well as taking a few licks of paint from the woodwork, but it’s reasonable to assert that the heart fills with hope rather than expectation when he revs up and hurtles down the right.

Senor Gil similarly is not the sort of huevo from whom one expects too much in the way of end-product. Not for want of trying, of course, but the more one watches Gil and Johnson’s attempted crosses miss their mark, the more one checks the Asian Cup fixture list.

Into this curious mix emerged Werner. And actually, he did just about everything one had anticipated of him, in both the credit and debit columns. From the off he showed himself to be the sort who will quite happily race to close down an opponent if it means that the reward manifests a stage or two later, in a turnover of possession further down the line.

Occasionally, we got a glimpse of the pace that apparently elevates him to cover 100 metres in 11 seconds, a stat that made me goggle a fair amount. And of course, his shots zoomed around in every direction but the net, which was entirely as advertised.

But he ran the good race, neatly setting up Bentancur for his goal and in general giving the impression that he knows the drill. As appropriate he ran at his man, or went on the outside, or cut inside, or just let wiser counsels prevail and allocated to a nearby chum. All perfectly acceptable stuff, and as his fitness goes up the requisite number of notches, and the mysteries of Ange-ball are further unravelled to him, one would anticipate that his usefulness will similarly shoot up the scale.

Historically, a point at Old Trafford would be a prompt for some meaningful handshakes all round, but make no mistake, this one leaves AANP grumping like the dickens for the rest of the evening. Our lot were marginally better in the first half and comfortably so in the second, which by maths means we should have won the thing by approximately 1.5 goals. Two points have slipped away, and I won’t hear any arguments to the contrary.

That said, with players missing, players returning and players debuting, on top of which we twice fell behind (away from home), the troops ought to be commended rather than censured for this one. Deep inside the corridors of power I can imagine that the sentiment of choice is, “Muddle through and stay in touch with the top spots until everyone returns.” This is no catastrophe, just a slight shame.