All Action, No Plot

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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 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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Dortmund 0-1 Spurs Bottlers: Six Tottenham Observations

1. The ‘Thou Shalt Not Pass’ School of Defending

Hindsight being a pretty flawless sort of gem, it is easy for us to playfully nudge each other’s ribs and chortle, “Well that was pretty easy pickings, what?”

But being Spurs fans in general, and having sat through the first 40-odd minutes in particular, I think we can probably all swiftly reach a consensus that this was actually one heck of a delicate operation, and one which, but for six inches here and a millisecond there might have seen us one or two down by half-time and stewing in our juices like nobody’s business.

A three-goal lead we might have held at kick-off, but Dortmund came out of the traps at a fair old lick, and emanated the strong whiff of a team that would go on to nab a second, third and fourth if they could just get that first.

Enormous credit is therefore due to the entire N17 cast for defending as a team, particularly in the first half. Like those rather natty shoals of about a hundred fish that you see weaving this way and that in perfect synchronisation, as if controlled by a single mind, our defence and midfield diligently shuttled hither and thither as Dortmund prodded away like the dickens.

Normally this sort of guff wouldn’t earn a second glance at AANP Towers, where the teeth have been cut on a strict diet of the non-stop, all-action swash and buckle that has lent its name to the place; but there is a time and place for such things, and the drill last night was quite rightly to keep the door shut at all costs during the initial blitz.

This is not to say that our heroes were flawless in their defending as a collective. Had they been, there would not have been need for the last-ditch heroics peddled by Messrs Lloris, Vertonghen and Davies at various junctures.

Nevertheless, I got the impression that if one were to pluck a lilywhite at random and slice him open, one would have discovered intense concentration levels and a strict game-plan coursing through his veins. Our lot were hell-bent on keeping Dortmund at bay.

2. What Lloris Does Best

So as mentioned, the generally topping work done by all eleven was embellished in timely fashion by a couple of goal-worthy challenges from certain members of the back-five; and when even these lines were breached, Monsieur Lloris produced the sort of performance that in truth he’s probably owed us for the past couple of seasons.

Some saves were straightforward, and some were absolutely first rate. Usefully, Lloris was not in discriminatory mood, and did the necessaries with all of them.

In a way, the slightly desperate, last-ditch, backs-to-the-wall nature of the thing in the first half played neatly into Lloris’ hands. The chap seems to be at his best when instinctively thrusting out a paw to repel a close-range snapshot.

Shoot at his legs and there is a moderate-to-good chance the ball will find a way through. Ask him to come dashing from his line to mop things up and any sort of fresh hell might transpire. But simply fire the ball at him from a distance of 5-10 yards, as Dortmund did repeatedly in the first half, and he’s precisely the sort of nib you want manning the phones.

3. The Ironic Need for Sideways and Backwards Passing

Not that Lloris’ heroics and the collective spirit of defence made the first half much more bearable. For all the thrill of seeing a Davies limb extend or a Vertonghen toe intercept, the respite rarely lasted more than around 5 seconds before the next Dortmund wave was upon us. For almost the entirety of the first half we were unable to retain possession, our on-the-ball subtlety rarely extending beyond simply blooting the thing to halfway and trying to regroup for the next yellow attack.

In between staving off heart attacks, the thought did strike me that we would have benefited immensely from a spell of possession, just for its own sake. Not with the aim of pelting towards the Dortmund area in search of an away goal, but simply to relieve the pressure.

Instead, out on the greenery, the only intention seemed to be to launch the ball north, in the hope that Kane and Son might magic a goal out of nothing. The net result was that neither were able to hold up play and we were immediately back under the cosh. What we were crying out for was actually a spot of sideways and backwards passing, with zero attempt to encroach on Dortmund territory, and every intention of simply controlling the game for a few priceless minutes.

Being the sort of egg who’s all for a spot of irony during their daily routine, it did strike me that in recent weeks I have hit something pretty near apoplexy at the sight of Toby, Sanchez, Vertonghen, Winks and Sissoko pinging the ball sideways and backwards ad nauseam. When the games against Burnley, Chelsea and Arsenal were absolutely howling out for some urgency, invention and blasted forward forays, our heroes intransigently pivoted, and pivoted, and then rolled the ball sideways.

Contrast with last night, when all they seemed capable of doing in the first half was attempting unnecessarily and unsuccessfully to force the ball forward. I don’t mind admitting I swept a hand across the fevered brow on more than one occasion.

Mercifully, the penny dropped from about the 40-minute mark, as Dortmund’s enthusiasm for the chase dwindled. Thereafter, our heroes began to look like they were starting rather to enjoy themselves. Aware that it simply did not matter whether they passed forward or backward as long as they retained the ball, they began to lead Dortmund a merry dance, occasionally feinting to attack, and then rather cruelly about-turning and shuttling the ball across the back-line.

4. Kane Adulation

And that, in truth, was pretty much that. Half-time arrived with our heroes in possession, and the early second half goal gave every one of us the opportunity to indulge in a good, old-fashioned spot of exhaling.

Being an absolute machine, Harry Kane did not pause to mess around when presented with his one and only chance. The chap’s Champions League stats already boggle the mind a tad, and the circumstances around his goal yesterday were impressive – one might make the case that the very best strikers need only one chance in the crunch games, and Kane is very much of that ilk.

On top of which, he spent much of the rest of the game pottering around winning free-kicks while strongly outnumbered. A cracking performance from whichever angle one views it.

5. Why Hello There, Eric Dier

A tip of the hat also to Eric Dier, who returned from witness protection looking like these were the circumstances for which he had been born to play.

Thrown on with half an hour to go, instructed to protect the back-four and generally ensure no alarms, he did so with discipline and aggression, as one would expect, but also threw in a neat line of simple and effective short passes that kept the pressure off and gradually sucked the will to live from the Dortmund mob.

With Winks and Sissoko seemingly playing every minute of every game these days, and hobbling off accordingly, the return of Dier, particularly in this sort of mood, is most useful.

6. All Grown Up

Two years ago our heroes were gifted a fairly straightforward draw, and failed to progress from the group.

One year ago our heroes topped a group containing Real Madrid, then outplayed Juve for all but 13 minutes over two legs, and failed to progress past the Round of 16.

This year our heroes have delivered absolutely textbook Home and Away leg performances, and now gambol on to the Quarter Finals. The evidence mounts in pretty compelling fashion to suggest that they improve year on year.

No doubt they will continue to lose the occasional game against big teams (and presumably be labelled ‘bottlers’) and occasionally lose to smaller teams (and presumably be labelled ‘bottlers’), but the two very different and devastatingly effective performances in this tie – following a group stage in which we faced elimination unless we scored in the last 10 minutes of each of our fourth, fifth and six fixtures – points towards a team that is getting the hang of this lark.

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

Spurs 3-0 Dortmund: Five Tottenham Observations

1. Rip-Roaring Stuff – After An Ominous Beginning

Heavens above, who saw that coming? This being AANP Towers, the mood ahead of kick-off was, naturally enough, about as gloomy and pessimistic as these things come, what with one thing (Kane and Dele absences) and another (Dortmund being 5 points clear in Germany).

And that first half did little to brighten the mood. Our lot approached it as something akin to the early stages of a chess match, in which a lot of harmless toddling is done in defence, but no incisions of note are made (bar the dreamy Moura volley out of the blue).

I suppose it made for terrific viewing for fans of centre-backs, as Our Glorious Leader indulged in his own private game of stuffing as many as he could onto the pitch, but the net result was a heck of a lot of sideways passing between the back three, as Dortmund stepped back and squeezed every last inch of space out of midfield. The lilywhite cup did not overfloweth with attacking options.

Moreover, whereas the sum of our endeavours was a countless stream of sideways passing between Messrs Sanchez, Toby and Foyth, Dortmund hit upon the idea of racing into the gaps behind our full-backs and letting that scamp Sancho ooze with the menace of a chap with his finger on the trigger. As the protagonists trooped off for half-time refreshment, the chin-stroking amongst the paying public was of the lugubrious variety.

2. A Love Note To My Best Mate Jan

Goodness knows what pearls of wisdom were imparted at half-time, but I suggest they be recited every morning in classrooms and offices across the country, by law and as a matter of urgency.

“Tactical tweak” seemed to be the buzzword, although I must confess that here the mechanics of the thing were rather lost on me, as the only alteration I spotted was the slightly physics-defying move of having our wing-backs both drop deep into a back-five, to counter Sancho and his whirring legs of wizardry, and simultaneously to push those same wing-backs right up the throats of Dortmund, to act as auxiliary wingers. So, in effect, fielding thirteen players.

Whatever the nature of the sorcery, it worked. Our heroes flew out of the traps, and once Dortmund had altered their game-plan to accept 1-0 we stumbled upon the brainwave of scoring enough goals to take the tie away from them.

As seasoned visitors to this parish may be aware, whether he knows it or not Jan Vertonghen is what I consider a bosom-friend, our paths having crossed a couple of times in the last year. I am therefore modestly willing to accept the credit for his transformation from solid, dependable centre-back to flying, all-action winger, and, no doubt benefiting from my inspiration, the chap delivered an absolute belter of a performance out on the left.

Be it harassing the life out of the Dortmund right-back – thereby forcing him and his chums onto the backfoot – making himself available, intercepting or swinging an array of crosses into that sensitive spot in the penalty area that has goalkeeper and centre-backs nervously looking at one another for a spot of authoritative command, Vertonghen ticked the boxes like a man possessed. And then chipped in with the ghosting run and finish of a seasoned striker.

3. Sonny Delivers Yet Again

The absences of Kane and Dele had weighed heavily upon my heart pre-match, and little I saw in the first half changed that sentiment, but where there is Sonny there is hope. Admittedly there was not an uninhabited ounce of turf for him to excitedly buzz into in the first 45, but this is a chap who emerged from the womb scampering into space, so it was little surprise that his enthusiasm remained undimmed by the first half travails.

Naturally he was the catalyst for the second half rout, and while Llorente has done his bit, and the stars of Moura and Lamela intermittently burn bright, it is Sonny who has embraced the role of General Saviour Of Our Skins in the absence of Kane.

Mercifully there now follows a 10-day intermission, at least half of which I would expect Son to spend simply asleep, because the chap has run himself into the ground for us ever since presumably running himself into the ground for his country.

4. Sissoko The Elder Statesman

It is a sign of the times that in our biggest games we can now fairly confidently shift our glances to the right in expectation of another towering performance from Sissoko, and he will deliver.

In the lamented absence of Dembele, he is now emerging as the sort of chap who can pick up the ball inside his own half and set off on an irresistible gallop. What he lacks in aesthetic finesse, he more than makes up for in effectiveness, and at various points he trotted out his usual blend of in-possession forward strides and out-of-possession harrying.

For all the talent in our team, we still occasionally look a little short of those types who will grab the nearest bayonet, sprint to the front-line and lead by example, even more so in the absence of Kane, but Sissoko is beginning to emerge as one of those dependable bods, an elder statesmen to whom others can turn and goggle.

5. Winks Steps Up

Young Winks has earned himself the occasional critical arching of the eyebrow from this quarter in recent weeks, for being a little too risk-averse and light on carpe-ing the nearest diem.

Last night, however, he nailed absolutely every bullet point on the job description. He made it a matter of professional obligation to keep possession in the first half, when others around him were becoming increasingly frustrated at the lack of options and occasionally sending passes awry; and then in the second half he straddled the line perfectly between playing safe and pushing us forward.

With a little more space within which to operate in the second half, he was always the first option available to our centre-backs, and once in possession took a leaf out of the Christian Eriksen Book of Picking Appropriate Passes, be they short ones backwards or of the more adventurous variety further north.

To do all this against a team of pretty illustrious ilk was thigh-slapping stuff – and indeed, that sentiment can apply to just about every member in lilywhite. It might not have been flawless – Messrs Foyth and Aurier will presumably have mumbled a prayer or two of thanks for some lucky escapes – but that second half in particular was fabulous, sensible and devastatingly effective stuff.

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

Spurs 1-0 Newcastle: Four Tottenham Observations

1. Sonny Saves The Day Again

As will be familiar to those who regularly stop by these parts, the AANP take on the midweek win against Newcastle brought peltings with rotten fruit in the Comments section, for the admittedly reckless decision to omit from the list of the venerated Son Heung-Min.

With that in mind, and given that the lively young bean scored the critical goal yesterday, it seems only right to shower him with all manner of praise.

In truth however, through no particular fault of his own, he was a little muted yesterday. The spirit was as willing as ever, as he buzzed hither and thither, and even when at a standstill his legs appeared slightly blurry with movement. Newcastle, however, had been up all night poring over their homework notes, with the result that they swarmed all over Son like he was a homing beacon, and for much of the game he was crowded out.

Mercifully, the chap is fleet of foot, and it is to his credit that he conjured from pretty much nothing a yard of space yesterday, and did not wait for a second invitation to leather the heck out of the ball.

Having flown around the world twice, and been out on his feet at the conclusion of the Newcastle match, Sonny’s contributions, particularly in the absence of Kane and Dele, have bordered on the super-human, injecting moments of inspiration when we have needed them most.

2. Vertonghen’s Exciting Day Out

Our Glorious Leader sticking to his principle that to play a wing-back in consecutive games would be madness of the highest order, and with Davies still absent injured and young Walker-Peters too dashed right-footed, there was a rare day out on the left flank for AANP’s close chum Jan Vertonghen.

As social experiments go it made for interesting viewing. Nature having decreed that any and all useful output should emanate from the chap’s left stem, he was at least appropriately balanced for left-backery. However, Vertonghen is a man of pretty lengthy proportions, sinewy and elegant, well-designed for tackle and stretch, and not necessarily the obvious pick for lung-busting runs along the flank, with chest thrust and muscles throbbing, a la Danny Rose.

It meant that the fellow did not necessarily look entirely at ease as he set about trying to make a fist of the role, life’s accelerations and bursts not coming entirely naturally to the chap.

Not that his team-mates gave the mildest hang about his travails, for the Player X-to-Vertonghen routine seemed a pretty well-rehearsed one, and pretty swiftly became the option of choice as Newcastle barricaded the various other routes to goal.

To his credit, Vertonghen beavered away as instructed, and while his crosses missed as regularly as they hit, he had a decent amount of joy, and gave our heroes a viable option throughout.

His eventual replacement by Rose nevertheless made sense as we switched to 3-5-2 in the closing stages, Rose being more genetically disposed to go hurtling down the flank. All told, the use of Vertonghen as left-back is probably not going to be nailed on for generations to come as the tactical ploy of choice, but for a random joust against a Newcastle mob set upon deep, deep defence it was at least moderately successful.

3. Llorente’s Impact, Again

Having lambasted Llorente whenever the opportunity has presented itself in recent weeks – and on several occasions when no such opportunity has existed, but the urge has simply become too strong – lovers of irony were in their element yesterday as I bemoaned the unfortunate egg’s absence throughout.

With our lot camped outside the Newcastle box, and the entire Newcastle lot camped within, the case for airborne crosses was pretty compelling, and the stage seemed set for Llorente to peddle his wares. Alas, the pairing of choice was Moura and Son, whose prowess on terra firma is unfortunately not matched by any particular renown in the air. A couple of decent headed chances popped the wrong side of the posts, and by and large we were kept at arms length by the massed ranks of Newcastle bodies.

Not to criticise Poch for this particular call, mind. Llorente has been used on a near-constant basis since Kane’s untimely departure, so there was some sense in rotating him out. And one might opine that the plan actually worked to perfection, given that the chap then set up Son’s goal when he was ultimately introduced.

4. Late Goals When Most Needed

So for the umpteenth time this season our heroes have come up with a late, late goal send us all home with a sentiment somewhere on the scale between relief and buoyancy. Much more of this and folk will start accusing us of having mettle and grit and not bottling our affairs.

More serene, comfortable victories would obviously be preferable, but I must confess to a little thrill at the manner in which we can now enter the final furlong still needing a goal but with an underlying sense that actually we might dashed well go and grab one from somewhere.

We almost certainly will not win a trophy this season, but it appears that another string is being added to the lilywhite bow, as we have now become one of those teams who can eke out goals in the dying embers.

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

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 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.

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Newcastle 1-2 Spurs: Five Lilywhite Observations

1. A Result to Remember Come May ‘19

The pedant may mutter that it was a mite reckless to use up an entire season’s worth of good fortune in the opening game; and the purist may well grumble that this fare will have few at the top table quivering in their boots; but given the circumstances this win was pretty valuable stuff, two bonus points for May ‘19.

With United already having won, City likely to set off like a train and Liverpool fans rather unusually suggesting that this might actually be their year, the last thing we needed was to fall off the pace with a stodgy result in our opener.

Moreover, half of our heroes arrived at the ground still wearing flip-flops and smeared in Factor 30, their post-World Cup jollies having been rather rudely interrupted by the day-job. For before you could say “How terrific that nine of our players feature in the World Cup Semi-Finals!” the realisation dawned that those same nine would be in no fit state for a full 90 minutes huff and puff come mid-August.

And on this front the doom-mongers had a point. Aside from some sporadic passages of possession, there was little to suggest that our lot were anything more than half-cooked. Blameless enough, given the circumstances, but most assuredly not the stuff of which dreams are made. In possession we were pretty slack, misplacing passes rather casually, and for various nerve-shredding periods when not in possession we were teetering on the edge of last-ditch defending. It all looked decidedly wobbly as the clock ticked down – making this every bit more a win to cherish.

(A word of consolation towards our vanquished hosts –which I’m sure will mean the world to them – for having rattled the woodwork twice, missed some eminently presentable one-on-ones and conceded a goal by a matter of literally millimetres, they are presumably wondering what more they needed to do to earn a point. Conversely, we did not so much flirt with Lady Luck as whisk her away for a no-expenses spared weekend of her life in some exotic location.)

2. Vertonghen Gets The AANP Nod

The fellows who know these things awarded the Man of the Match brick to Dele Alli, and the eagle-eyed will follow the logic of that one, young Dele having delivered the coup de grâce, channelled his inner Platt/Scholes/Lampard for various bursts from deep and also embellished proceedings with a quite marvellous passive nutmeg of Yedlin. So far, so Man of the Match.

That said, however, the AANP vote went to Jan Vertonghen. Much of the game was played on the back foot, and Vertonghen needed his wits about him a few times to intercept passes of the more cunning variety, as well as doing a spot of good, honest out-muscling.

On top of which, he poached the opening goal, with an opportunism that seemed to fly completely under the radar of the bods paid to commentate on such matters.

The perplexing status of Toby (on the payroll yet regarded with that same disgust one normally reserves for those who grab axe and go on rampage) and the occasional youthful indiscretion of Sanchez (guilty of daydreaming while the Newcastle egg wandered in behind to score) means that Vertonghen is very much the robust sort of block upon which a heck of a lot ought to be built.

3. The Rest of the Post-World Cup Mob: Trippier, Lloris, Kane, Dembele

The AANP eye was keenly trained upon those of World Cup Semi-Final ilk. As noted, Dele pottered around usefully and Vertonghen was obliged to tick boxes left, right and centre.

Our glorious leader, recognising that Kieran Trippier has taken his rightful spot alongside Mbappe, Modric et al as one of the stars of the global game, evidently felt that St James’ Park is beneath Kieran Trippier. And quite rightly so. It meant that the marvellous young fish was spared the indignity of Newcastle away.

Monsieur Lloris, our resident World Cup-winning captain, was mercifully spared the torture of having to handle too many back-passes. He stuck gamely to the essentials of the thing – catching and punching like a man who emerged from the womb in such fashion – and his dive at the feet of Kenedy in the second half may well have earned us two points, so a great big “Très bien” against his name.

As for our resident World Cup Golden Boot-winner, this was one of those outings pretty heavy on perspiration but with little to blow up anyone’s skirt. For a chap who’s a proven dab-hand at goalscoring he was forced to spend a lot of his working day ploughing that furrow that spans around ten yards either side of the halfway line. A dashed good job he did of it too, shielding the ball and laying things off as we all know he can do. Nearer the goal, however, his mechanics were not quite right, the rather worrying truth being that he looked like a man in need of a rest. Little chance he’ll get one mind, until, perhaps, Summer 2019.

And finally, a few adoring words for Mousa Dembele. By all accounts the Dembele limbs have handed in their notice, and the chap is not much longer for this sceptre isle – but cometh the nervous final fifteen minutes, cometh one heck of a cameo.

A common concern from AANP Towers during the Pochettino Years has been our lack of an experience head amongst the frivolous youths, to help see out games. Yesterday, Dembele filled that void with aplomb, fulfilling very duty laid out in the Job Spec. Strength to hold off all-comers, technique to protect the ball like a newborn – nothing we haven’t seen before of course, but massively effective, and alongside the yellow-carded Dier and earnest-but-average Sissoko he played a pretty prominent role in steering the good ship Hotspur to port.

4. Sissoko and Aurier – Plus ça Change

Much has been made of the fact that the status quo has been maintained when it comes to playing personnel, and accordingly, with a rather damning inevitability, on the opening day of the season we were treated to the sight of Messieurs Sissoko and Aurier weaving their own unique brand of wizardry on the right flank.

Sissoko is certainly an earnest chappie, and rather brings to mind the old cricketing mantra that nobody drops a catch on purpose. Time after time his forward passes seemed perfectly well-intentioned but just didn’t quite hit their mark.

To his credit, his sideways and backwards stuff admirably evaded danger, and on one or two occasions he also used his brute force to good effect, in winning possession. A thought occasionally springs to the AANP mind that the blighter might be better employed as a centre-back, but that’s more one for idle dinner-party conversation. Sissoko is here to stay, since, as the official party line so correctly indicates, there is nobody available who might improve our starting eleven…

Meanwhile there was something strangely comforting in seeing Aurier ceding possession and letting onrushing attackers glide past him unnoticed. That old feeling of familiarity returned, like a beloved friend not encountered for some time.

And then, to give the blighter his undoubted due, he delivered the cross of the season to date, an absolute peach, the like of which mini-Auriers will whisper of in hushed and wide-eyed tones for generations to come. It would have been rude of Dele to miss.

5. Frustrations of Lucas & Son

I don’t mind admitting that the AANP pulse quickened pleasingly at the sight of Lucas’ name on the teamsheet, and when the chap took an early opportunity to tear at the Newcastle defence I positively squawked my approval.

That, alas, was about as good as it got in Moura Towers, because the chap did little more than flit around the periphery thereafter. I suppose his crack legal team will have a pretty lengthy defence prepared for him along the lines of the fact that if he is not given the ball he can hardly be expected to race around with the dashed thing, and one would see their point. Nevertheless, I am inclined to politely clear the throat and mention that he might have done a little more in the line of scavenging himself.

One suspects that at some point he will deliver an absolutely blistering performance, running rings around just about everyone in the vicinity, scoring two and making a few more – but today was not that day.

And finally, young Sonny. Given the much-vaunted lack of preparation of Dele and Kane, and the fact that Son himself imminently has to do the honourable thing for his country, I was jolly taken aback to see the chap withheld from proceedings both at the outset and later on. Once introduced he tore around as if his coiled spring had just been released, so it was a shame we had to wait so long, and odd that we did not utilise him while we could.

Still, those called upon just about did what was necessary, and given how easy it would have been for all concerned to have made excuses if we did not stagger over the line this is a win to be lauded.

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Spurs 2-0 Watford: Four Tottenham Observations

Slightly stodgy stuff all round, but these routine 2-0 home wins are necessary fare. That I could only really muster three and a half observations tells its own slightly damning story really, what?

1. Lloris

Monsieur Lloris has found his head shoved in the stocks and pelted from several angles with fruit of questionable freshness in recent weeks, due to some fairly high-profile in-play choices made, but yesterday he was back doing the du pain et du beurre for which he earns the weekly packet, and it was a gentle reminder of why we fell in love with the chap in the first place.

There were three or four saves that jolly well needed to be made, at least one of which was probably worth a goal. The hecklers will no doubt mutter that extending a palm here and leaping horizontally there hardly makes up for the wild flaps and ill-judged lunges of recent weeks, but this at least was one for the credit rather than debit column.

2. Trippier – The Least Average

This was pretty perfunctory stuff from our heroes, a bit like watching a factory machine whirr, hum and dutifully churn out goods. Amidst this slew of 6 out of 10 performances I am willing to propose that young Master Trippier puffed out his chest just a little further than most.

This was not the second coming of Pele by any means, but the young nib beavered away pretty tirelessly throughout. He generally kept the back-door locked as necessary, but more eye-catchingly, at the faintest whiff of action in the Watford half he was disappearing over halfway in a puff of smoke.

In contrast to the oddly anonymous Davies on the other side of the land, Trippier was a pretty constant outlet on the right, and generally seemed to be in and around the vicinity whenever any mischief was perpetuated. Took one or two kicks to the shins and whatnot as well, and bounced back without too many tears, which is always pleasing to observe.

While his crosses did not always hit the mark, he did at least sling a merry half dozen into useful areas, and also assisted Kane for our second. Add that to the fact that he simply isn’t Serge Aurier and this was a pretty useful contribution from the well-inked scamp.

3. Vertonghen, Relatively Unsung Hero

My public may be unaware that Jan Vertonghen and I are practically bosom buddies these days, our paths having crossed on a pet project around Christmas, since when he has always meant to message me before, during and after each game, but presumably has never quite found the time.

When his heart skipped a beat at being named in the PFA Team of the Year, I’m pretty sure his first thought was to share his joy with his old mucker AANP – again, he just did not quite find the time, being an in-demand sort of egg.

It was an accolade well-deserved by my BFF, because while those around him might have whinged about their contracts, or thrown in occasional wobbly on-field moments, Jan (I’d like to think we’ll be on first-name terms) has generally mopped up with minimal fuss, and taken every opportunity going to bring the ball out of defence like a modern-day Beckenbauer.

That the chap has not scored for Spurs in several years is pretty mind-boggling, as he’s up for every set-piece and has decent enough technique. Last night he had a couple of six-yard thrashes in the first half, and then nodded one against the upright, which seemed pretty rotten luck (although as my old man, AANP Senior is perennially fond of piping up, one only deserves credit for hitting the post if aiming for it, which rather makes a point).

For good measure, and seemingly on something of a personal vendetta against the Watford goal, he then went charging forward late on and showed pretty immaculate control to pluck the ball out of the air and lay it off for Kane’s offside ‘goal’. The poor blighter may not have got his goal, but he deserves credit for a season’s worth of pretty topping performances, and when he does eventually get in touch I’ll be sure to mention it.

3.5: Substitute Cameos

I rather enjoyed the little cameo off the bench from Lamela, full of unnecessary stepovers and whatnot. He has a delightfully languid air about him at times, as if determined to give the impression that this football lark is simply too easy for him, and simply being summoned to perform is beneath him. One or two Gallic types of yesteryear would not with approval that sort of arrogance. If he could just add the occasional end-product he would be one heck of a player.

There was also a rare sighting of Sissoko, who promptly bundled over someone illegally and then blazed over when clean through from inside the area. It was all rather comforting to behold, in a plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose sort of way.

With three clones of this fixture to come, we just need to wrap up the Top Four spot and give Kane a leg-up to the Golden Boot, before preparing for Russia.

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

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