All Action, No Plot

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Ajax 2-3 Spurs: Six Tottenham Talking Points

Real life rather rudely interrupted the celebrations at AANP Towers last week, but since we’re all still floating around atop a cumulonimbus there seems no harm in peddling a few belated observations from our gloriest of glory glory nights…

1. The Complete Absence of Hope

Had we cantered to victory in serene and most un-Tottenham fashion it would undoubtedly have been a thrill, but presumably not one that will live in the memory quite like this magnificent absurdity.

After about 5 minutes of the first leg I was already groaning the groan of a man on death row who hears fresh coins being popped into the electricity meter; by half-time in the second leg I had already whizzed through all seven stages of grief and was starting to wonder about England’s batting line-up for the Ashes.

Even after Moura’s first two goals I simply refused to countenance the possibility of anything other than glorious failure, which in hindsight says quite a lot about how damaging the last three decades of lilywhite faith have been.

But to score the goal that sends us into the Champions League Final, just as the clock in the top left corner ticked over literally to the final second of the allocated extra 5 minutes – well it’s little wonder that we’ve all rewound and watched that moment about a hundred times each. Frankly just writing about it makes me need another lie-down, and etches that massive grin across the chops once more.

2: Llorente: Flawed But Wonderful Hero

As if to encapsulate the glorious lunacy of the night, the man who made the difference was Fernando Llorente.

With reserves so depleted that we genuinely checked beforehand whether Vincent Janssen was eligible, Our Glorious Leader made the call of a man who realises that his entire life’s possessions have gone down the drain so he might as well go all in on his last hand because to hell with it. If Janssen were eligible I suspect he might have been flung on too, but as it happened the only resource left was Llorente, the striker with a penchant for missing from 2 yards. On he duly shuffled.

And it changed the entire pattern of the game. By simply attaching himself to Daly Blind and swaying gently in the Amsterdam air every time the ball was lofted into orbit, he did more to discombobulate Ajax than any amount of fancy footwork and attempted sorcery from the more illustrious colleagues around him.

With the sort of cruel irony that just about proves that the gods like nothing more than toying with the mortals below, this Ajax team who were so masterful and fizz-popping in possession that they made one dizzy just by watching, were utterly flummoxed by the most basic tactic in football. Time and again our heroes launched the ball to the big man, time and again he angled himself in suitably ungainly fashion to ensure that the ball apologetically bounced off him and into the general vicinity of Dele, Lucas and chums.

Naturally, being Fernando Llorente, he contrived to miss from two yards when the laws of physics seemed to dictate that it was impossible to do so; and naturally, being Fernando Llorente he spurned what appeared to be our final chance of the tie by heading over from a corner when unmarked in the dying embers. But nobody cares a jot, because Llorente’s value that night was priceless.

Seemingly created as a striker in concept alone, who adds value in theory, but abandoned by nature before any of the practical specifics of being a striker could be added, Llorente swung the game back our way before Lucas had even begun adjusting his sighter. All credit to him and Poch.

3: Dele’s Touch

Amidst the general bedlam, it was pretty easy to overlook the cutting-edge, shiny, 24-carat quality of Dele Alli’s soft dab of the ball into Lucas Moura’s path for the third.

The general mood around the campfire has been that Dele has owed a decent contribution for a while now. Not his fault, of course, that his season has been staccatoed by injuries, and there have been times when an outbreak of class has threatened. By and large, however, this has been another of those seasons in which one winces, and scratches the head, and generally starts digging for suitable excuses for the chap.

Last Wednesday however, the memo finally wound its way to the Alli grey matter, and he obligingly picked one heck of an occasion to make a handful of those flicks and flourishes finally count.

Observers first stirred at the sight of him making a Platt/Scholes-esque dash to the far post, early in the second half, only for his volleyed close-range mid-air shot to be patted away by the Ajax ‘keeper. The juices were however flowing, as, funnily enough, he seemed rather to enjoy life at the top of a diamond behind the front two.

I suspect that in setting up the first goal for Lucas he was trying to do it all himself, and might have thrown something of an arm-waving tizzy at his colleague for steaming onto the ball, had it not wound up in the net.

But it was the flick that set up the third goal that really had me purring. Well, I tell a gross untruth, because “purring” is not really the adjective to describe what madness ensued as the third rolled in – but the point is that it was an absolutely exquisite touch.

Simply to have the nerve to attempt a pass like that, at a time like that, with stakes like that, borders on the unfathomable. Watch the goal back for the 101st time and treat yourself to a goggle at the fact that he plays it the wrong side of the defender, and without even looking. How the dickens he knew that Lucas was curving his run into that area is beyond me, given that he was looking in the other direction completely, but that I suppose is why he earns the hefty envelope.

4: Danny Rose Starting The Comeback

A loving pat on the head also for Danny Rose – who no doubt would enjoy that sort of thing – for getting the ball rolling, in a matter of speaking. Three down on aggregate, his nutmeg on the Ajax chap, followed by cross-field pass to Lucas, set the whole comeback in motion.

Of course if one wants to trace the origins of the thing back even further one could start heaping credit upon Sonny for feeding Rose in the preceding moments, or Paul Stalteri for haring into the West Ham penalty area, because these things are all part of the sequence of contributory events don’t you know? It was, however, a slick little piece of skill.

5: Hugo’s Saves

Since I’m here and dishing out gold stars in slightly scattergun fashion, I might as well gobble down a frog’s leg and raise une verre to Monsieur Lloris, for a couple of critical saves that kept the thing simmering along nicely.

Stick the ball at his feet and one is inclined to dive behind the nearest sofa and cover the eyes, for fear of what fresh hell might unfold.

However, tell the chap to stick to the business of leaping hither and yon with arms outstretched, and he gets the gist in double-quick time. At 2-2 on the night, and with the clock ticking down in that ominous fashion so typical of the things, Lloris was called upon to do produce the cat-like stuff, and he did not fluff his lines.

6: Everyone’s Positioning At The Final Goal

I have to admit to raising a particularly quizzical eyebrow at the manner of Christian Eriksen’s immediate post-match interview, in which he gave the impression of struggling to stay awake for sheer boredom, even as the walls of AANP Towers were resounding to the clatter of yells and leaps and a general orgy uncontainable excitement. However, if Eriksen spoke one truth it was that tactics rather packed their bags and exited the premises sharpish in that second half.

The introductions of Llorente for Wanyama, and Lamela for Trippier, gave pretty broad hints that as attempts at conventional 4-5-1s and 4-4-2s were bringing little joy, the approach would swiftly alter to more of an Everyone-Pelt-Forward-At-Every-Opportunity-And-Let’s-See-How-It-Lands.

And so we ended up in that last minute with Sissoko starting the attack from a sweeper position (which made some sense because, as we now all recognise, the chap is actually a football genius); Eriksen and Ben Davies alongside him; Toby and Jan desperately edging into wing-back positions; Sonny as a deep-lying midfielder; and everybody else haring straight up the middle in attack. And all this about thirty seconds after Hugo had raced into the opposition penalty area.

It was glorious stuff, utterly in keeping with the all-action-no-plot madness of the game, and fully justifies the constant re-watches, because one never really tires of watching the careering reactions of absolutely everyone involved.

To say nothing of Lucas himself, who seemed only to touch the ball on the three occasions in which he planted it into the net with the dead-eyed precision of a sniper (plus, I suppose, the extraordinary dribble of an uncle toying with his nephews that set up his own second).

Quite why there is a three-week wait for the Final is anyone’s guess, but if it allows more time to revel in the absolute glory of Amsterdam, then it gets the AANP vote.

Man City 1-0 Spurs: Five Tottenham Observations

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1. Missed Chances

Quite the oddity this, because despite taking a fearful battering, in the first half in particular, we probably ought to have won the thing with a spot of breathing space, purely in terms of chances created.

Sonny twice (possibly thrice?), Eriksen and Lucas Moura all had chances that one under oath might have described as “presentable”. Not just scrambled, snapshot efforts, but bona fide whites-of-the-keeper’s-eyes stuff. Some pretty slick build-up play too, which was stirring to watch.

Credit in a sense must therefore be slopped pretty generously upon the plate of Our Glorious Leader, who set us up most pointedly to play on the counter-attack – with both of Lucas and Sonny unleashed, and Llorente’s rather alternative take on things kept under lock and key on the sidelines.

Everybody else in our number was tasked with chasing Man City shadows, but the deployment of both Son and Lucas at the pointy edge of things had the City centre-backs squirming throughout. Either our front two were sprinting at them, or they were threatening to sprint at them, which in a way felt every bit as effective – rather like one of those ghastly horror films one sees, in which a heroine picks her way through a silent and foreboding house, and although nothing is actually happening on screen, it still sends the pulse into overdrive because of the fear that at any given moment some scoundrel might leap out from the shadows and do some mischief.

Alas, whereas on Wednesday night we were impressively clinical, today all who found themselves in front of goal were a mite too ponderous about their business. All seemed to want an extra touch, when really the hurly-burly nature of the fare meant that it was an occasion for rather swifter and more decisive action.

2. Line-Up

I gave Poch credit for the set-up, and he certainly improvised well given the depleted resources, but I suppose his hand was slightly forced. With players dropping like flies he went for the rarely-seen Six Central Defenders Gambit, and I suppose this was as suitable a time to do so as any, given that City have nift and trickery seeping from every pore.

Alas, despite the presence of so many versed in the art of centre-backery, we still managed to leave arguably the most lethal striker of the last five years completely unmarked inside the penalty area within the first five minutes, and calamity duly befell. Fingers of blame duly wagged at Sanchez (which was actually the only blot on an otherwise mightily impressive escutcheon) and Toby, for nodding off at their sentry posts.

At that point I grimaced the grimace of a man who foresaw all the walls caving in and at double-quick rate, because City, already stoked for revenge, raged around the place looking like chaps very much with the scent of blood lingering in the nostrils.

They hogged possession and battered away, but, gradually at first and then with increasing regularity and control, our massed ranks of defensive types repelled them. I rather certainly for the midfield three of Dier, Eriksen and Dele, relentlessly shuttling hither and thither in the midday sun, but although they struggled to control things, they did enough to help out the back five.
Wobbly though we had looked at the outset, by the time the second half pootled around the complexion of things had begun to change, and the expectation was as much that we might nab a counter-attack chance as that City might double their lead.

A shame that shooting boots were not packed – but ultimately few complaints. City were, as ever, pretty good value for the win.

3. Foyth Impresses

After witnessing Trippier being led a merry dance on Wednesday, I feared for the earnest but flawed young buck Juan Foyth when the actors took to the stage and Raheem Sterling gave him the once-over. Their opening tête-à-tête duly made for grisly viewing, as Sterling left Foyth reeling through a cloud of jet-heeled dust; but thereafter our man grew into the game, and just about edged a very tough personal duel.

Under strict instructions to show Sterling down the line, Foyth did so with admirable judgement, and also a few dollops of hitherto unknown body-strength, which earned a tick or two in the AANP book. Credit also to Sanchez for offering generous assistance; and even when Sane entered the arena and the nature of the threat took a subtle turn, Foyth was generally equal to it.

He does still rather dwell on things when in possession, as if inclined to take four or five seconds to admire his immediately preceding handiwork, but where there might have a pretty seismic Achilles’ Heel we did in fact boast a pretty well-secured potential entry route.

4. The Angry Rose Cameo

Danny Rose’s fragile limbs means that the angry young tyro cannot legally be fielded for two sets of 90-minute fare within four days, so he had to content himself with around twenty minutes in which to vent his incessant rage, and simultaneously enrage all those in opposition.

But by golly, doesn’t he do that well? He stormed onto the pitch to take a midfield role, immediately looking aggrieved at the state of things, and duly communicated this by executing a perfectly legal tackle on Bernardo Silva that was accompanied by a quite unnecessary and thoroughly enjoyable follow-through, sufficient to send the chap flying.

Thereafter the general level of angst and needle amongst both sets of players shot through the roof. In a way this might have been to our detriment, because City were already losing the plot quite comfortably on their own, without any egging from our heroes, and the added level of aggravation merely prevented us from counter-attacking as repeatedly as we needed.

However, in the grander scheme of things I was jolly pleased to see our lot take a leaf out of the Rose Playbook and mooch around with scowls on faces and flying tackles in their feet. From the off, City had shown far more desire, and our lot had given the impression that they were satisfied with Wednesday night’s outcome. City had continually hounded us and won back possession in the early flashes, so, late though it was, I was pleased to observe us at least finish with some appetite for the fight.

5. Muted Dier Performance

As an aside, one notes with concern that in 20 or so minutes, Rose kicked immeasurably more lumps out of opponents than self-styled hard man Eric Dier managed in his 60 minutes. The AANP Jury remains far from convinced on Dier. Though a handy asset given his versatility, he displays neither boundless energy nor exquisite positional sense, nor is he possessed of a particularly notable range of passing.

When sitting in midfield on days like today, his task is presumably to act as a disruptive and destructive influence, making forceful tackles or at the very least giving the opponent in possession a friendly shove – but today he contributed little. As stated, Rose performed the role in vastly more eye-catching manner.

All told, however, this was game from which anything other than a hammering would have been a pleasant surprise. Having created that many chances it was a shame to lose by a single goal, but a string of winnable games now sits between our lot and a top four finish.

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Man City 4-3 Spurs: Five Tottenham Observations

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So for those who had the slightest doubt, that is why it’s called All Action, No Plot.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but this was one of those madcap jamborees in which words just rather flit into the ether, and one is left gawping, a mere spectator, as utter madness unfolds. Five goals in the opening twenty – and even that did not compare with the quite gut-wrenching finale of unadulterated ridiculousness.

1. Nerves Shredded To Dust

It is not the first time this thought has occurred, but rarely have I been more struck by the notion that watching Spurs will be the death of me. I will simply keel over and be no longer for this mortal coil, the trusty blood-pumper simply not up to the rigours of watching our eleven heroes in lilywhite toying with the nerves.

To order things chronologically, there was simply no time to get one’s head around the unfolding madness in those opening ten minutes or so. They scored, and we scored, and we scored, and they scored, and – well, one gets the gist. Every time we tried to take a deep breath and get our heads around the permutations, another goal flew in and all that had gone before was as naught. It really was most discombobulating.

In the midst of those opening thrusts, Sissoko injured himself in a manner that was so innocuous it could only possibly have been pretty dashed serious, and in one of those decisions that was entirely in keeping with the utterly sanity-free nature of proceedings, Our Glorious Leader replaced him with Senor Llorente. And Sissoko was booked for being substituted. Really.

2. Llorente: Zero, Hero and All Things In Between

Might as well dwell further on Llorente and his impact on things. Both match-winner and cause of our near-downfall, the honest fellow’s introduction pretty much sucked the life out of all we had as an attacking force, at around the 40-minute mark.

Admittedly we were hardly bossing proceedings until then, but for all City’s razor-sharp potency in the first half we did at least possess a heck of a threat until that point. With Lucas and Sonny looking shifty, and bringing about two early goals, there was plenty about which the City back-line might ponder.

Llorente did his best, as ever, but rather than the desired effect of holding up the ball and allowing others to zip up in support, he lumbered this way and that, a good few yards behind the City back-line. His introduction inadvertently castrated our counter-attacking prowess.

And yet.

Cometh what seemed like our only foray into the City third, in that relentless second half, cometh the hip – and quite possibly the elbow, or wrist, or some other stray upper limb – of Llorente. For a chap whose forte is supposedly his heading, it was a pretty atrocious effort, his head nowhere near the ball – and it was also the most gorgeous finish I think I’ve ever witnessed. The AANP tuppence worth on the VAR call: not a clear and obvious error. So there.

3. Full-Back Struggles

Easy to criticise, and I’m not sure the fires of hell itself are as unforgiving as the rampaging forward thrusts of the quite majestic Sterling and De Bruyne – but Rose and, in particular, Trippier, were so adrift in those opening twenty minutes that the whole thing seemed to be in contravention to the rules.

Trippier is a mighty fine attacking threat against just about any team in the world, but he supposedly is a defender by trade, and his approach to containing Sterling was so weak as to be laughable, comprising, as it did, the grand plan of showing the chap onto his stronger foot. For goodness’ sake.

Rather harsh to zoom in on the full-backs when our entire team was being cut to ribbons fairly incessantly in the second half, but I did not think either full-back covered themselves in glory in their individual battles out wide. Oddly enough, when matters became a mite more last-ditch and backs-to-the-wall, and all a matter of blocking and hacking clear, they both looked a bit more dependable.

Worth emphasising also that Messrs Lloris, Alderweireld and my mate Vertonghen used every inch of their nous and defensive skill during that second half battering. Bravo, chaps. Lloris in particular, so often lambasted in these parts for his moments of startling wobbliness, delivered some top-notch palm extensions.

4. The Famous Soft Tottenham Underbelly

Easy also to overlook quite what a remarkable effort this was. In the context of not spending a penny on players for two transfer windows – against a team that flings around monopoly money – and to take the field without our main striker, one had only to look at our substitute options to get the sense that we would need something verging on the other-worldly to pull this off.

The departure of Sissoko in the first half simply made the dashed difficult unfeasibly testing. A glance towards the respective benches highlighted the fact that we are woefully undercooked for such top-level squad jousting.

No faulting the effort of those involved, but Wanyama looked every inch a player who has barely played in the last two seasons; Llorente looked every inch a man in his mid-thirties looking rather bewildered at the vastly trendier youths whizzing about him; and the options on the bench, of Walker-Peters, Davies, Skipp et al did not inspire lashings of confidence.

They deserve every ounce of praise therefore, for staying within touching distance throughout, forcing their noses ahead seemingly through sheer force of will, and then clinging on for dear life.

5. That Finale

I don’t mind admitting to my public that I felt physically sick throughout, and reached what one might term a lowest ebb when Sterling bundled in what appeared to be the winner in the dying moments of added time.

I’m not sure I’ve ever experienced the lowest conceivable low being instantly interrupted by the highest possible high, but it really ought to come with a health warning. For a game that I’d cheerily dismissed beforehand as a free hit, one that did not really matter in the grand scheme of things, and of vastly lesser importance than the domestic stuff on Saturday, this certainly drained the engine.

Utterly incredibly, we are through to the semi-finals of the Champions League – this after being within a few minutes of elimination seemingly throughout the group stages. And without any signings. And without our star striker. And so on and so forth.

Utterly bonkers, and utterly compelling all action, no plot stuff. Time for a stiff drink.

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Spurs 4-0 Huddersfield: Five Tottenham Observations

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1. The Ongoing Evolution of Sissoko

Convention usually dictates in such exalted circumstances as these that the celebratory fizzy pop commemorating the Man of the Match be bestowed upon the scorer of the hat-trick. Being the anarchic type however, I am willing to question the validity of such a call, for there were a couple of other notable performances.

Moussa Sissoko has been long established as a pretty vital cog in this machine, and the improvement in his doings continues with each game. He now really is emerging as the heir to Dembele’s throne, no longer simply a barely-connected bundle of limbs, but now offering a regular injection of energy in bringing the ball forward from halfway in irresistible fashion.

Admittedly he does not possess the grace and finesse of Dembele, but he is nevertheless jolly effective in what he does. And in fact, pretty much his first touch of the ball today – a 360 degree pirouette away from trouble – displayed a hitherto unseen finesse that set the tone for his performance thereafter.

Where once we would turn to Dembele to bring the ball forward and defy all attempts to displace him, now Sissoko performs that role with some relish. In a game in which we spent much of proceedings simply keeping possession and toying with Huddersfield, Sissoko’s forward forays were a regular threat.

2. Llorente Channels His Inner Teddy

Another fellow whose afternoon was full of right and proper content was Senor Llorente. As vocal a critic as I generally am of the chap’s limited mobility, I am also a swooning admirer of his velvet touch, particularly when cushioning passes into the path of chums, and he delivered several dollops of the good stuff today.

There was something of the Sheringham about him, as there often is when he is on song. He as often as not plays the way he faces, and if that means he has his back to goal and is going to dab the ball whence it came, into the gallop of an onrushing support act, then he will dashed well do so.

In hindsight I think Llorente benefited more than most from the early two-goal biff that effectively ended the competitive nature of the game. Where the elongated bean often labours, with the weight of the world on his shoulders as he feels the pressure of deputising for Kane, the fact that the game was won so early had a delightfully liberating effect upon him, and he simply pottered around enjoying himself.

As well as his link-up play with back to goal, he also sniffed around at chances like nobody’s business, with a couple of flicked headers indicating that the compass was in decent working order, and a couple of shots from his size elevens requiring the flailing of various Huddersfield limbs to deny him.

Most impressive was his gorgeous control and clipped shot off the bar, early in the second half, which demonstrated a touch that was about as silky as they came. Dashed shame that that did not go in, but by and large it was a handy old stab at things.

3. The Good and Bad of Juan Foyth

The very public education of Juan Foyth continues apace, with all the usual trademarks on show. It made perfect sense to choose an occasion such as this to continue to blood the young imp, with Huddersfield offering only minimal threat throughout. For the majority of proceedings, young Foyth crossed defensive t’s and dotted defensive i’s with that usual appearance of assurance. The meat and veg of defending, he generally got right.

The problems seem to occur more once he’s already won the ball, and the elaborate process of deciding what action to take next begins unwinding in his mind. Oh, that the little voices simply whispered to him to release the ball to the nearest lilywhite shirt and be done. Instead, Foyth will typically ignore the cause of sanity, and be seduced by delusions of grandeur that see him eagerly try to start attacks, cure cancer and solve Brexit.

The notion that opponents might try to rob him off the ball seems the last thing on his mind, and so today he was occasionally the victim of many an attempted tackle while weighing up distribution options, or attempting to shoulder-drop and Cruyff-turn his way out of slightly precarious spots.

However, his decision-making will improve with experience – games like today undoubtedly will help – and in time, his combination of defensive solidity and ability to bring the ball forward ought to make him quite the asset. A tip of the cap too, for his instigation of our second goal.

4. Delightful Finishing

The sight of four well-taken goals certainly added a dash of class to proceedings.

Moura’s first and third harked back to a glorious, simpler age, in which boots were black, games kicked off at 3pm and goals were scored by blasting the ball with every ounce of strength. They were joyous to behold, and struck with the sort of pure technique that makes you want to add an extra splash to your afternoon restorer.

Wanyama’s nifty footwork also merits praise, for as Sissoko demonstrated in gory detail at Anfield recently, these chaps who are unused to the heady heights of the opposition box can get themselves into an awful muddle when through on goal.

No such trouble for Wanyama, who danced his way in with the assuredness of a seasoned goalscorer. And all the more important for being the opening goal, struck early. Serene though the whole affair might have been, our nerves may have jangled a couple of bars had we reached, say, the half-time mark or beyond without a goal.

5. A Triumph for Squad Rotation

Easy to say in hindsight, but Our Glorious Leader certainly judged his team selection to perfection. With injuries to Messrs Kane, Alli and Winks a degree of prodding and poking was already required, and while the rotating of full-backs was standard Pochettino fare, the additional omissions of Toby and Sonny did prompt a rather nervous chew of the lower AANP lip. The thought flitted across the mind that this might be one tweak too many.

A nonsense, as it transpired. All involved performed creditably enough, the game was sewn up in double-quick time and the cherished limbs of Toby and Sonny were protected from any prospective rough and tumble.

Many a sagacious type has suggested that while our Starting XI is a match for most, our squad depth verges somewhat on the lightweight, and I suppose in comparison to some of our cash-rich rivals this has a degree of truth to it. However, conscientious types like Davies, Walker-Peters, Wanyama, Foyth, Sanchez, Lucas and Llorente have comfortably have enough to best bottom-of-the-table rot, and as gambles go, this one proved one of the safest in town.

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Spurs 1-0 Man City: Five Tottenham Observations

1. A Marvellous Team Effort

What splendid viewing that made. And all the better for being a couple of notches above and beyond wildest dreams.

Given recent form, the quality of the opposition and, frankly, the weathering effect upon the soul that three decades of Spurs-supporting inevitably has, the pre-match mood at AANP Towers was defeatist to the point of philosophical. “What the heck?” was the general, resigned tone, accompanied by suitably accepting shrug, “We aren’t expected or likely to win, so this amounts to something of a free hit.”

But goodness me, with the presumably strict tactical instructions of Our Glorious Leader ringing in their ears, our heroes played out scene after scene just about to perfection.

They hunted in packs as appropriate, but cunningly did so only at suitable junctures and as a team, similarly picking moments simply to sit off and let City mooch around in possession. While the sound of jangling nerves undoubtedly resounded a few times, particularly in the second half, as City buzzed around the edges of our area, they did not actually fashion a clear-cut chance, and Lloris was relatively untroubled.

Quite the triumph for teamwork then, but also as individuals just about every man in lilywhite – including subs Lucas, Wanyama and Llorente – excelled in their individual duties. Pre-match I had feared that 89 minutes of good honest graft might be undone by those increasingly typical moments of unforced madness that various individuals are liable to sprinkle around the place; but yesterday every man was near-faultless.

Sissoko was immense, carrying the ball forward like the slightly clunky ghost of Dembele and defending with non-nonsense force; Toby and Jan were watertight; young Winks repeatedly picked the sensible options, be they backwards or forwards; and Rose was a constant threat in his intriguing match-up with erstwhile chum Walker.

2. Lloris

Recent history dictates that if anyone were going to magic a calamitous error out of thin air it was our resident net-protector, but his handling was secure, and in saving the penalty he gave the entire place an almighty fillip.

This penalty-saving lark is becoming something of a habit, what? Which is all the more pleasing given that in his previous half-dozen or so years of employment I’m not sure I remember him diving into the right postcode when faced with a spot-kick, let alone saving one. Yet there he was, as clear as day, beating the thing away as if it were the most natural way in the world to right a wrong and inject a little fire into sixty thousand bellies.

Heaven knows I malign the chap like the dickens when he errs, so it is only right to salute him today.

3. Sonny Saves Augments The Day

By the time Sonny popped up with his coup de grâce I would happily have traded in my right arm for a goalless draw, so it would be a slight mangling of the Queen’s English to suggest that the cheery soul saved the day, but by golly he certainly popped a cherry on the top of it.

At that stage, deep into the second half, City had decided to go about their business with a darned sight more urgency, and while we weren’t exactly clinging on for dear life, we were backtracking into that sort of territory.

As so often happens, the absence of Kane seemed to remove a chain or two from the being of Son, and he appeared more than happy to occupy the vacated limelight.

It is an odd quirk, that the sight of Kane limping off down the multi-million pound tunnel did not sear my very core as once it might have done. Make no mistake, yesterday was a fine advert for the honest fellow’s general hold-up play, and until Llorente came on we had no similar apparatus in operation. However, this lot are now pretty well-versed in the art of Kanelessness, and actually I was more alarmed by the sight of Sonny going down with a wince a few minutes later.

Sonny will presumably be the focal point in future weeks, and much therefore depends on the supporting roles of Lucas, Llorente and Dele (plus Lamela, if he returns to fitness). All told, the absence of Kane is not the terminal blow it might seem.

4. Eriksen

While most in lilywhite peddled their wares with intense concentration and sterling effectiveness, for much of the game, and in keeping with recent weeks, I paced the corridors with concern at the outputs of Master Eriksen.

His workrate remains as good as ever, but for an hour or so his distribution was decidedly careless. For a man of such ability to misplace ten-yard passes, or suck the momentum out of attacks by passing south, struck me as a real waste, and a poorly-timed one at that. It seems no coincidence to me that our flatness during February and March has coincided with his swerve into off-boil territory.

Mercifully, he righted numerous recent wrongs with that delightful chip into the path of Sonny for the goal, and in general in the final twenty or so minutes of proceedings he danced around the expensive place with some of the old menace.

5. VAR

In truth I prefer not to wade into any topic that doesn’t have Tottenham at its front and centre, and frankly if the rules state that Rose’s was a handball then I’m willing to accept that and toddle along because such is life.

However, the lack of consistency irked me, I don’t mind admitting. The fact that the penalty was awarded despite literally no appeals for a handball does not irk me (it merely suggests that none of them were particularly familiar with the current rules); the lack of consistency does.

I happened to catch snippets of the Liverpool game being played concurrently, during which a pretty similar accidental handball occurred, and VAR decided against a penalty award. All of which gives the impression that rather than mete these things out consistently, they might as well be adjudged by the toss of a coin. If they want a ridiculous rule then so be it; but dash it, apply that rule consistently.

On top of which, it appears that elbows to the head are now also above board, in the all-seeing eyes of video refs. Which is fine by me, if that approach will now be universally applied; one rather suspects it won’t.

A tad harsh on Rose to be yellow-carded too, but such are the mind-boggling days in which we live. Ultimately the whole curious affair simply provided our heroes with a greater sense of injustice with which to fire them along.

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Leicester 0-2 Spurs: Four Tottenham Observations

I’m not sure how public opinion will come down once the votes are in, but by my estimation this ranked amongst the best results of our season.

Before you gather your rotten tomatoes and start flexing your throwing arm, consider the evidence. Leicester, though not world-beaters, are no slouches, and had been in pretty rare fettle prior to last night’s events. On top of which, this rather cruel habit of the Fixture Gods, of scheduling a game every five minutes or so, continues unabated. Barcelona await on Tuesday, and to that end, most crucially, we entered battle with our two key weapons safely ensconced in training gear on the bench.

Throw in the usual raft of injuries – Dembele, Sanchez, Trippier, Lamela, Wanyama – and by the time the preliminaries were done I was fully expecting our heroes to drop a couple of points at the minimum.

1. Life Without Kane and Eriksen

After his disastrous Foyth-For-Toby gambit around this time last week, I don’t mind telling you that AANP was in unforgiving mood when the teamsheet went up in lights, revealing both Kane and Eriksen to be surplus to requirements. The eyebrow shimmered upwards with displeasure, make no mistake.

Now admittedly, ever since the World Cup, yours truly has been near the front of the queue of those yowling that Harry Kane needs to be given the occasional night off with his feet up and a mug of something warming in his hands. Pretty rich, you might therefore say, of me to yowl with equal displeasure when that very same wish is granted. And you would in fact have a fairly watertight point.

But the nub of the thing is that to drop one key player at a time might seem like common sense, but to drop two in one go, dash it, is really taking one heck of a chance.

Or so the argument ran pre-match.

As things transpired, Our Glorious Leader played his hand to perfection, keeping our star men about as fresh as a particularly buoyant couple of daisies ahead of the date with Barcelona, whilst maintaining league form that, if not quite relentless, feels like it’s about seven eighths of the way there. A mumbled apology duly falls from the AANP lips and wings its way Pochwards.

That said, for around 45 of 46 first half minutes we did scuttle around with a distinct absence of cut and thrust.
Kane’s absence, while hardly something for which one can compensate with an insouciant shrug of the shoulders and a carefree whistle on the lips, is nevertheless one of those trials in life with which one learns to cope. Not even Sonny’s own parents would suggest that he has the bulk and build to hold up the ball like Kane, and indeed the chap seemed to present all the physical presence upfront of a particularly wet piece of card, but with his pace and trickery he is at least capable of posing a threat as a striker. Lucas similarly has enough about him to make an opposing defender scratch his head and curl a lip or two.

Eriksen’s absence, however, is an altogether thornier subject to broach over post-prandial coffee. Nobody else in the team can pick and execute his brand of scything chances, and while we can tinker with formation and personnel until blue in the face, we look a darned sight more ordinary without him. That we ultimately won at such a cigar-puffing canter is a credit to Sonny for his quite marvellous opener, and Dele for a fabulous all-round performance.

2. Dele

Dele has never quite blown my skirt up as one would expect of a 50-goal midfielder, but by the time the curtain came down on proceedings yesterday I was one of the first out of my seat strewing the stage with flowers and yelling for an encore.

Eriksen he might not be when it comes to unpicking a lock with minimal fuss and a hefty dollop of suaveness, but the young imp still has a heck of a lot of technique and good-old fashioned schoolboy skill in his size eights. Last night he took the opportunity to rattle through a back-catalogue of his Greatest Hits, doing a passable impression of a young Gascoigne in the process.

What really made the world a sunnier place was that his dribbling and flicks were integrated within a pretty sound all-round display of decision-making. Whereas previously he has simply hogged the ball for the heck of it, ignoring the imploring pleas of better-placed colleagues, last night he seemed surprisingly alert to the fact that passing the thing was a real and credible option, and he hit a healthy balance between solo dribbles and well-judged distribution.

One still gets the impression that he would rather gnaw off his own arm than dish out a pass, but he mixed it up to good effect. In the absence of Kane and Eriksen, he seemed quite happy to take the lead, and his goal – though marginally the wrong side of the law, if we quibble about these things – was as richly deserved by the individual as by the team.

3. Full-Backs: No Longer A Forte

I saw this point made in one of last week’s evening papers, so if you already caught it yourself you might want to potter off and pour yourself a cheeky whiskey at this juncture, and rejoin the action in a couple of paragraphs’ time.

It’s the old gag about the current vintage of full-backs vs the circa 2015/16 vintage. Back then, Walker and Rose struck the fear of God into just about any opposing wide-men and managers you cared to name. They genuinely were amongst the best in Europe, and in a team full of assets and prized individuals had made a pretty solid stab at being the pick of the bunch.

But, as the cliché so neatly puts it, what a difference a couple of seasons, a huge transfer fee and personal ambition in a right-back, and a bout of depression, homesickness and injuries in a left-back makes. Walker is off dancing with the stars, Rose is a puzzlingly neutered version of his old self, and whichever personnel we use these days one’s instinct as an onlooker is to hold the breath and fear the worst.

Trippier, for all his whipped crosses onto the ample Kane forehead, sits rather awkwardly within a back-four as opposed to outside a back-three, as if itching for someone else to do the defensive stuff so that he can motor on into attack.

Aurier, while having generally cut the wild and reckless horizontal lunges from his game, is still neither one thing nor another, being both average at defending his patch and middling at attacking another’s.

As for Davies, the blighter would have my hair going a rich and glistening shade of grey if he had not already caused me to yank out great clumps of it in sheer frustration. His defending, as with the aforementioned, is generally no more than adequate – and quite often a few shades short of even that.

And as for his attacking, I can barely remember the last time one of his crosses hit the sweet spot in the heart of an opponent’s area. The Data Analysts amongst you will I’m sure report that the majority of his crosses bounce harmlessly off the nearest opponent. Even his less adventurous distribution seems oddly ill-executed, with misplaced passes and frequent instances of his being dispossessed seeming to litter the highlights reel.

To his credit, his infield pass ultimately set up our second goal yesterday, but this struck me very much as one to be filed under ‘Exception’ rather than ‘Rule’. The young sore’s calling in life may well be within the safety-netted no-man’s-land that is the left side of a back three.

In general however, whomever one picks from the models on offer, our full-back selection is no longer a thing of menace and threat.

4. Doing Remarkably Well – Despite Evidence To The Contrary

Getting back to the specifics, Leicester were oddly obliging about things once Sonny had struck oil right on the half-time gong, and the second half was about as serene as I’ve witnessed Spurs in seeing out one of these away wins.

Lloris did eventually have to make a couple of saves, but nothing of the ilk to have one clutching feverishly at the nearest friend for support. Toby and Jan were unruffled at the back, which bodes well for Tuesday and makes one yet again rue the team selection vs Arsenal, and while young Winks does often opt to for the safety-first option of a backwards pass when something a little more adventurous would not go amiss, his was a very secure performance, laced with an occasional forwards surge.

One cannot really go into the Barcelona game with any sentiment further north of hope, but even should the worst happen and we fall into the doom-laden pit of despair that is the Europa League, we still find ourselves in remarkably fine health. This despite playing 10 of 16 games away from home; despite ‘home’ itself now emitting a decidedly unwelcome whiff; despite muscle injuries for 9 of our 12 World Cup Semi-Finalists; and despite the fact that aside from one (vs Chelsea) and a half (vs Man Utd) games we have yet to play genuinely well, in the truest sense of the word, all season.

Start actually playing consistently well and good knows where we might end up.

Need a Christmas present for the Spurs fan in your life? AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes is available on Amazon…

Arsenal 4-2 Spurs: Three Tottenham Observations

1. Outfought

Every now and then there comes a time in one’s affairs when one realises that things have not quite gone precisely to plan, and have in fact fouled up to pretty rotten levels. And at such times one really has little option but to smarten one’s tie, take a deep breath and face the world with a stiff upper lip and some of the honest spirit that was presumably hoovered up with gusto by those bygone era Christians who were spending their days being thrown to lions and other such unwelcome appointments.

This seems to be one of those times. Frankly our lot were outfought pretty much throughout, and there is no doubt the better team won. Unpalatable stuff to drink in, of course, but best digested swiftly.

Right from the curtain-raise Arsenal seemed to want the thing more, and the outlook didn’t really change much from that point. It had the air of those occasional away-days at West Ham, or the visit to Chelsea a few years back when they wanted to stop us winning the title – in short, the opposition’s cut and thrust had the air of stuff on which their last breaths depended.

As we did to Chelsea last week, so, with a neat symmetry did we have done to us this. Anybody in lilywhite who had possession was not given half a moment to reflect and glory in the fact, because packs of Arsenal blighters were swarming all over them, kicking and shoving and generally being a nuisance. Somehow our heroes failed to adjust to this way of thinking, and the whole operation pretty much fell apart at the seams as a result.

After around 20 minutes we did produce a spell of some neat and incisive little darts, and snaffled two goals out of it, which was a roaring return. When allowed to play, we trotted out decent stuff – but there’s the rub. By and large we just weren’t allowed to play, and for all the pushing and shoving we lacked a collective approach to the thing which took the fight to Arsenal and allowed us to get on top of them.

2. Individual Errors

Being a little too meek in the tackle and sluggish to the loose ball is bad enough in such hell-for-leather contests as this, such an approach being pretty much the polar opposite of that ordered by the doctor at these times.

But the whole dashed thing is sent plummeting to new depths when some of the key personnel involved start flinging around like confetti a whole slew of baffling acts of incompetence. Yet there in black and white they were, from minute one onwards. Worse, the specials from this particular list were trotted out by various esteemed members of the defence, behind whom of course there really is little else in the way of a safety net.

Aurier, Davies and Foyth were the principal early offenders, dwelling and dithering on the ball while numerous red shirts homed in on them, setting a dismal tone which their comrades adopted with a little too much gusto. In such circumstance one might have hypothesised that shifting play a good 60 yards up the pitch might have helped relieve the pressure, but the priority appeared to be kamikaze, so whenever he could Monsieur Lloris tried playing the ball out from the back. Naturally, every effort to pass the ball out from goalkeeper to back-four ended in near-calamity.

This sort of over-elaborate nonsense ought really to be swiftly consigned to the scrapheap, but of itself it doesn’t necessarily signal catastrophe. When the ball is lost out wide or in midfield, reinforcements can be summoned and last-ditch tackles made. The matter can be escalated. Disaster need not necessarily be declared. What really leaves matters in an irretrievable state is the most peculiar brand of idiocy that leaves an opponent clean in on goal, as peddled by some of those elder statesmen who really ought to know better.

Vertonghen’s handball as an early example. At a time when we desperately needed to keep our heads down, weather the storm and wait for Arsenal’s early energy to peter out, just about top of the list of Things To Be Avoided At All Costs was to randomly stick out a paw and concede one of history’s least necessary penalties.

Perhaps lower on the scale of Utter Insanity, yet hardly a moment to be paraded as a triumph for wisdom, was Eric Dier’s sliding attempted tackle on Torreira for the fourth goal, which was mistimed by around an hour, and was inexplicably executed behind rather than in front of him.

Moreover, 90 minutes featuring Juan Foyth would not be 90 minutes featuring Juan Foyth without some sort of error both utterly avoidable and seismic in effect, and the young boil duly obliged in the second half, with one of his copywritten moments of daydreaming while in possession, allowing Arsenal to scamper away and score their third.

3. Foyth Instead of Toby

On that note I’m inclined to pass a hand over a pretty fevered brow and wonder what the dickens Our Glorious Leader was thinking in picking Foyth ahead of Toby in the first place.

One understands and indeed applauds the sentiment of easing young Foyth into the rather unforgiving world of top-level centre-backery, but one would equally be fully justified in waggling a finger and protesting that there is a time and indeed a place for that sort of thing. Particularly when the whelp in question has a penchant for rustling up mistakes from thin air, like some sort of magician completely missing the point of his gig.

Would not a saner approach be to let Foyth bed in on home turf, and against opponents a little less likely to challenge for the top of the tree? We have about half a dozen such appointments in the coming month alone. And then, once proven in such circumstances to deliver without fouling up, fling him into an away day at The Emirates?

Evidently not. He made it through 90 minutes against Chelsea, but most certainly got away with his standard error (the unpunished foul on Hazard). On this occasion though, which ought really have to been one for as solid a foundation as we had, Foyth brought his box of mistakes and sprinkled them liberally throughout.

It would be galling enough, but the sight of Toby, fit and well, looking on from the bench is enough to make a grown man sink his head in his hands and wonder aloud where the devil it will all end. (One never knows, of course. Toby might have done a worse job of things, or simply not have been fit enough. The AANP eye, however, is jolly sceptical.)

One defeat does not a disaster make, of course, but with a game every 3 or 4 days until the new year it will be pretty important to bob back into shape at the earliest opportunity.

Need a Christmas present for the Spurs fan in your life? AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes is available on Amazon…

Spurs 3-1 Chelsea: Five Tottenham Observations

1. Pochettino’s Tactical Triumph

Here at AANP Towers we have always looked kindly upon Our Glorious Leader, but more for his cherubic features, endearing humility and general good way with the youth of today. ‘Tactical Nous’ has always ranked a fair few rungs down the ladder, so to speak, when it comes to dishing out the gold stars.

Well not any more. I won’t pretend to be an expert in the dark arts of tactics, but by anyone’s rope Pochettino delivered a masterclass last night.

The whole delicately-planned jamboree reminded me of that scene in 80s rom-com Predator, in which Arnold Schwarzenegger and his sunny chums rig a whole array of nets and trip-wires and booby traps for the eponymous predator, the only difference being that whereas in the film the predator promptly escaped and killed them all, yesterday Pochettino’s traps left the Chelsea mob trussed up and at our mercy.

Right from kick-off, Poch’s tactics had Chelsea feathers ruffled, with glances exchanged amongst their number as if to say “What’s going on here then chaps?”

In a glorious throwback to around two seasons ago, Poch hit upon the nifty idea of pressing the life out of every Chelsea player who looked remotely dangerous. No sooner had one of them received possession and begun clearing their throat to voice their grand plans than lilywhite shirts were swarming around them and snapping at every available ankle.

2. Dele on Jorginho

Principal amongst ankle-snappees was Jorginho. I hadn’t been keeping up with current events myself, so was not aware that this chap was actually the second coming of something pretty special, but apparently he starts attacks, stops attacks, cures cancer and unmuddles Brexit, so he was evidently what is known in circles as A Big Deal.

Muzzling this blight upon society was therefore top of the agenda, and Our Glorious Leader hit on the unlikely plan of using Dele as a loose approximation of a man-marker.

On paper this might reasonably have been described as lunacy of the highest order, but as it happened, on grass the reinvigorated 2018/19 version of Dele was absolutely the perfect man for the job, loitering closer than the man’s own shadow.

Pochettino’s tactical masterclass wasn’t just limited to the deployment of Dele as one of history’s less likely man-markers. The use of Son as pretty much an out-and-out striker, always available as a blurry, whizzing outlet in the top right quadrant of the pitch, was another on his list of masterstrokes. The midfield diamond in general, and use of Sissoko in particular, pretty much kept Hazard kept securely under lock and key. Even Aurier, whose name I pretty sure translates into English as “Liability” kept Alonso on the back foot, and was pretty much faultless in defence throughout.

The whole set-up was a triumph, nabbing our rotten opponents hook, line and sinker. It was 2-0 after 15 minutes or so, 3-1 at full-time, but could, peculiarly, have legitimately been 6, 7 or more.

3. Glorious Goals

As our goals flew in yesterday, the thought occurred that despite being as different as these things can be, each was a thing of beauty in its own way.

Eriksen scattered the game with flashes of his impish best, and never more so than in the absolutely vicious delivery that set up our opener. It would have been an affront to decency for Dele to do anything else but glance home a cross like that.

Much comedy ensued for the second, with Chelsea defenders waggling their limbs and leaping out of the way of the ball, but a long-range shot has a unique and glorious quality, and although every man, woman and child who saw it took a brief moment to register that it had gone in, aesthetically it was a smashing effort.

(As an aside, I do rather wonder at the wisdom of the Chelsea bods for that one. Kane is hardly a new face on the scene, and has basically spent the last four years picking up the ball from distance and immediately belting it towards goal. Did none of them anticipate that this was going to happen? Really? The mind absolutely boggles.)

As for Son’s goal, it was the stuff of Hollywood scribes. My Spurs-supporting chum Ian casually opined that “He did not have to do much,” a sentiment with which I immediately took exception and delivered a lengthy rant, strong on emotion and light on fact, as seems to be required in this internet-based age.

The pedants amongst us will have noticed that Son actually collected the ball in his own half – therefore having a heck of a lot to do, Ian – before scuttling exactly half the length of the pitch, producing a slick two-step dance move that befuddled Jorginho (who by this stage was looking anything but the saviour of humanity) and then outsprinting the chap despite having to do so with the ball at his feet.

He then sprinted exactly half the width of the pitch, from touchline to near enough penalty spot. Admittedly he was not required to do much to beat David Luiz, who was busily haring away towards the corner flag, but as a grand finale Sonny then had to pick the right finish. And this, as he had proved repeatedly in the first half, was not something that had been coming particularly easily to him during the preceding hour.

4. Many, Many Misses

I don’t mind admitting that the inner Spurs fan who resides deep within my soul – sullying every fun moment with the ominous warning that this is Spurs, and it might therefore all come crashing down within five minutes of expertly-executed kamikaze – was at it again yesterday. At 2-0 I was adamant that the next goal was crucial, and that if we conceded we might as well wave a white flag at 2018/19 and tear down the new stadium while we were at it.

Mercifully, the next goal was handed on a plate to Sonny, who did not have to do much, but for all the joyous yelping and back-slapping, we were still outrageously guilty of missing an entire sackful of dashed presentable chances.

It may seem jolly ripe to complain about profligacy having put 3 past a previously unbeaten team, but you all saw the thing play out, and can therefore corroborate – we had enough straightforward chances to have scored six by half-time, and nine by full-time. Son missed three straightforward first half chances, and one of Toby or Foyth (I think) ought to have scored from a corner; while in the second half Kane and Dele forgot to factor in gravity when applying their finishing touches.

Still, might as well miss them on a day when we don’t need them, what?

5. Sissoko

As ever on these glorious nights, I feel I ought to prefix any personal praise with apologies for a whole raft of others who will go unmentioned despite doing sterling work – but yet again Moussa Sissoko delivered a performance that was as brilliantly effective as it was utterly baffling.

In a team full of technical geniuses and silky attackers, Sissoko’s uncontrollable limbs and unstoppable power ought not to fit, yet increasingly seems he like the crucial cog in the machinery.

As he has been doing for weeks now, he ran rampant in the defensive midfield area, blitzing everything in his path when not in possession, and somehow gliding away from challenges when he was, like a weird, malfunctioning Dembele.
Should the day arrive when he gets things wrong it will be absolutely ghastly to behold, but for now he gets most things right, and we have somehow stumbled – and never was there a more appropriate term – upon something utterly marvellous.

Need a Christmas present for the Spurs fan in your life? AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes is available on Amazon…

PSV 2-2 Spurs: Five Tottenham Observations

1. Gallingly Pretty Stuff

Bafflingly, had it not been for the stress of the thing, this would have been an absolute treat to behold, at least for the opening 80 or so.

Take the goals alone. The first one was the sunny output of no fewer than 19 passes, according to the bods who monitor such things, the penultimate one of which was an absolute delight inside the full-back, from the wand of Eriksen. Yes, there was a deflection on the finish, but after 19 passes that’s hardly the point is it?

The second goal was, to the lover’s gaze, a thing of even greater beauty. The little exchanges between Son and Eriksen had the poor old PSV mob scuttling around in little circles like dogs spying their tails and setting off in hot pursuit, while the cross from Eriksen was of that wicked ilk that really ought not to be viewed before the watershed.

In short the whole lilywhite performance was so sparkling that great swathes of cherubim and seraphim were making the dickens of a racket about it. In terms of aesthetics and technique it was off the scale.

Moreover, it was all delivered having earlier been on the receiving end of a couple of notable stings of disappointment. The PSV opener for a start, had something of Paul Parker in Italia ’90 about its perfect parabola over the ‘keeper. The downright rummy call to chalk off Davinson Sanchez’s efforts had the visiting patrons similarly miffed, and the whole unfortunate saga was starting to become uncannily reminiscent of the first half of the ’91 FA Cup Final for the way in which Lady Luck was having her cruel way with us.

Yet by the hour-mark we were playing a brand of the beautiful stuff that was a notch or two above most mere mortals, and absolutely cruising on to Gameweek 4 with our pockets positively bursting with points. Indeed, by the time of the red card our hosts had not managed one second half shot, such was our dominance post-interval.

2. Experience: Overrated

Naturally, it does not need me to remind that thereafter the whole thing went rather Spurs-shaped. However, the roll-call of miscreants makes for interesting viewing.

Toby may have redeemed himself, for about one tenth of a second, with his sliding tackle, but his leaden-footed buffoonery was the first official crack in the Hotspur mentality, and this is a chap to whom we turn most readily for leadership, big-game nous and all those other important-sounding buzzwords on occasions such as these.

Master Eriksen, arguably the pick of the lilywhite bunch on the night, blotted his escutcheon like nobody’s business with his lazy concession of possession on halfway, which set the PSV chap motoring off towards Lloris around the 80-minute mark. Again, Eriksen is a man of big-match experience, and as such he really ought to have known better than to try show-boating on halfway when the lead was but one goal.

And as for Monsieur Lloris, the mind boggles so much that a strongly-worded letter to The Times simply does not do it justice. Again, the chap has experience in absolute truckloads, which does rather beg the question – what the deuces?

Each summer for around four or five years the walls of AANP Towers have been alive with the sound of chuntering about our lack of arrivals specifically with the big-match experience to see us through such crunch CL games as these. But when the very chaps blessed with such experience are the ones most prominently sticking their feet in buckets and tripping over their laces one wonders where we go next. There is simply no legislating for such monumental foul-ups – but as long as they continue the lilywhite juggernaut will remain stuck in this underachieving rut.

3. Eriksen

I have already touched upon comments within both the Credit and Debit columns under Eriksen’s name, but to reiterate the positive, by the second half he was playing the game as if life and all contained within could be slowed down at his whim.

My, how we have missed him when he has been in this sort of form, and how we lack a remotely adequate reserve.

His error leading to the red card cannot be ignored, but he was at the heart of so much that was good as we forced our way into the lead, and then edged towards a third.

4. Dembele

Another welcome returnee was Dembele. The snorting-bull/balletic-ice-skater hybrid has blown hot and cold to date this season, but right from the opening toot he was on top-notch form yesterday.

Time and again he picked up the ball fifteen or so yards inside his own half, and within four or five seconds was fifteen or so yards inside the opposition half, with a couple of steamrollered PSV sorts lying dazed and confused in his wake. It was peak Dembele.

Although a yellow card seemed inevitable given the manner in which he slings his forearms this way and that when in pursuit, the caution he actually received was jolly harsh. It did nevertheless mean that I spent the remainder of the game screeching, “Don’t dive in, egads!” every time he thundered off in pursuit off the ball, but luckily he escaped further censure until replaced the Scrappy to his Scooby.

5. Lloris

Since the chap is evidently pretty deficient in the grey cells department I won’t dwell on his latest aberration,
but what of the future for Monsier Lloris? A season that ought really to have been the zenith of his career is rather awkwardly spiralling into one of those anni horribiles of which one hears so much.

The chap’s off-pitch foul-up has been complemented by a whole string of on-pitch errors, coming in thick and fast at the rate of one every two games or so, which is quite the batting average. Still amongst the best in the business when it comes to the pain-et-buerre of stopping shots, his presence as final custodian is beginning to instil dread, given his capacity to magic calamities out of thin air.

Irritatingly, Vorm is current possessor of the reserve gloves, which on form alone makes precious little sense as his unique selling point currently appears to be the startled stare he directs at the ball as it whizzes into his net.

On his rare outings in the first time I’ve always been rather taken by young Senor Gazzaniga, but I suppose the 24-7 grind of training is enough to indicate to the great and good that third choice is where he should stay.

It is difficult to imagine that Our Glorious Leader would dare to omit Lloris for the Man City game next week, but for the chap to be untouchable even when routinely making such errors of judgements rather epitomises the collective problem of not having the God-given sense to see out a win.

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Spurs 2-4 Barcelona: Three Tottenham Observations

1. Lloris’ Latest Clanger

Well I don’t know about you but I needed one heck of a lie-down after watching all that. It was 90 minutes absolutely bursting at the seams with all sorts of goings-on, from opening toot to final curtain.

And on the subject of opening toot, what the dickens was going on in the mind of Monsieur Lloris is anyone’s guess. On an occasion on which one would have shot some pretty unmistakable glances towards the elder statesmen to lead by example, the sight of Lloris completely losing his mind and sprinting off his line like he was allergic to it, within the opening sixty seconds, was about as far removed from the use of experience and nous as is imaginable.

This is not to say that had wiser counsels prevailed in the committee meeting going on in Lloris’ head in Minute One we would had have proceeded to demolish Barcelona. But on a night on which we needed all the help going, top-notch daftness from our captain as soon as the starter’s pistol sounded did not really chivvy matters along.

Worryingly, this is hardly an isolated incident. For both club and country Lloris’ errors of judgement are becoming something of a running theme, and one really does scratch the head and wonder. In goalkeeping years – which makes him sound a bit like a dog – he isn’t that old, and his actual shot-stopping still ranks amongst the best in the business. But no matter how much we bleat about his assets, such positive sentiments pretty much die on the lips if he keeps gifting goals like this.

(The chap didn’t cover himself in glory for the final goal either, which robbed us of another five minutes at 2-3.) (Nor for that attempt to start poking the ball past onrushing forwards midway through the second half.)

2. Absentees – and Transfer Policy Ramifications

Giving Messi and chums an immediate free goal was all the more galling in view of the fact that we were very much Tottenham Hotspur Lite. Even when at full strength the whole machine has rather sputtered along this season, central midfield in particular not really doing all that one would hope and dream.

Nevertheless, one might have optimistically opined that a full-strength Hotspur, under the lights at Wembley, might do the unthinkable – but alas, full-strength this was most decidedly not.

Jan Vertonghen’s was an absence sorely felt. Sanchez is an honest soul, but undoubtedly a little green behind the ears, and while he did a passable job of keeping a beady eye on Suarez, he was caught the wrong side more than once. If ever one wanted the Toby-Vertonghen axis to chug away at the rear it was last night.

The absence of Eriksen’s vision and guile was also to be lamented in odes and wails and whatnot. The three behind Kane beavered assiduously, but Eriksen would have added a liberal sprinkling of subtlety, and in truth Barcelona’s rearguard looked susceptible to the well-judged through ball throughout.

Personally I am of the opinion that we are better off without Dele in the ranks at present – his absence seems to encourage Kane to dip his toes into water further forward, and Dele’s style hinders the quick one-touch game, which is meant in exactly as pointed a manner as it sounds.

Demebele’s absence I felt more keenly, even allowing for the fact that the chap has his flaws, and occasionally does over-elaborate and lose possession.

Whatever one’s opinions on the aforementioned, the little slew of injuries shone a rather glaring light on our summer transfer policy. The central midfield could undoubtedly be stronger. Capable reserves for Eriksen and Kane are undoubtedly needed. Looking around at other teams who have this season strengthened with chappies like Arthur, Jorginho and Keiter in midfield hammers home that players are available, but we cannot continue to run a club on a Top Six budget and expect to be Top Four, dash it all.

3. Bright Notes

Back to matters at hand, and despite approaching the thing with one hand tied behind back, shoelaces tied together and a blindfold in situ around the eyes, our lot made a passable stab at it.

The gung-ho approach straight from kick-off may have spectacularly backfired pretty instantly, and Barcelona may have casually passed a thousand triangles around us in the first half, but to their credit our heroes charged around throughout as if utterly affronted by unfolding events.

Young Winks was certainly not flawless, but showed in flashes that that he has various strings to his bow, even if there were something about him that reminded one of a puppy snapping at the feet of an elephant.

Toby fought the good fight in noble fashion, and Trippier combined several threatening attacking forays with the sort of earnest, whole-hearted defending that makes him very much the short of chap with whom would want to sip a drink and chew over some of life’s problems.

Kane, it seems, selected his goal as the rest of us mere mortals select which shirt to wear. Rumours of the chap’s imminent demise seem quieter by the week.

And the lilywhite star of the show, from this vantage point at least, was Lamela, who really does currently look the sort of chap who would be a nightmare to play against at present. He sprinted around until his little legs would carry him no further, was as indefatigable off the ball as he was direct on it, and maintained his pretty impressive scoring record for the season as much through sheer will as any high degree of quality.

Sobering though it ultimately was, I don’t think there’s any need to be hot-footing it to the nearest cliff and hurling ourselves off quite just yet. As mentioned in dispatches, a solid handful of lilywhites made a jolly good fist of things.

Moreover, having been absolutely played off the park in the first act, and having twice trailed by two goals, the attitude of our lot was pretty breast-thumping fare, much like those black and white war films one occasionally sees on a Sunday afternoon, in which a doomed squadron face certain death with a zesty yell or two and some noble, if ultimately futile, acts of bravery. We could have given up the thing completely, but instead kept fighting away against one of the best teams around, is about the gist of it. And that’s something.

Like what you read? AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes is available on Amazon…

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