All Action, No Plot

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Spurs 2-1 Watford:

1. The Many Twists and Turns of the Llorente Soap Opera

If Fernando Llorente had been hoping for one of those quiet, drama-free nights that flits swiftly from the memory, he was in for quite the shock.

When the incorrigible old bean contrived to knee the ball over the bar from practically underneath it, the hills were alive with the sound of groans, curses and around thirty thousand palms simultaneously slapping foreheads.

For his own part Llorente did the honourable thing and duly adopted the pose of a man doing his level best to be swallowed up by the earth. More broadly, the omens were not particularly cheery, our heroes still being one goal in debit. The thought began to crystallise that if we were going to escape from this particular hole the odds appeared heavily stacked in favour of us doing so despite rather than because of the gangly fellow.

And yet, fast forward fifteen minutes or so and the chap was galloping off to the touchline in celebration, face contorted and fist clenched. He may have cut a pretty calamitous figure for much of his Tottenham career, but loft the ball towards his upper regions and Llorente will tend to find a way to plant a header into the net.

The curiosity in amongst all of this is that the ten lilywhites around him, while presumably having met him at some point, nevertheless seem utterly oblivious to the fact that Lorente is not, never has been and never will be Harry Kane, and just continue to play as if he is. They ignore his limitations – namely his stunning lack of mobility – and indeed his strengths – all that aerial muck – and instead whizz around the pitch as normal, and tell him to keep up if he can. Which he can’t.

The net sum of all this is that for much of the binge we play almost as if a man short. When a cross finally was lobbed onto his head, the blighter scored. Makes one think a bit, what?

2. Poch’s Changes

Going back to the beginning, it was another one of those dirge-like first half knocks, which suggests that some of the wiring is not quite right at HQ. Bar young Sonny, whose effervescence from the off was rather eye-catching, there was a distinct lack of movement and general urgency in that first half.

Not for the first time in recent weeks, Our Glorious Leader therefore took a sip or two from the chalice of half-time tinkerings, and with Lucas Moura introduced, and Sissoko drawing the short straw of right wing-back, things pretty immediately assumed a much rosier hue.

In truth, Sissoko hardly looks at ease in any position on the pitch, so right wing-back was as reasonable a shout as any other, and the chap did all that was necessary, including delivering the perfectly serviceable cross that resulted in Llorente’s one-yard moment of horror.

Further credit to Poch for recognising that there was more to be gained from introducing a more bona fide crosser onto the right, and accordingly shoving Trippier into action; and even his gambit of Lamela-for-Vertonghen was surprisingly – and pleasingly – proactive, for a man who has spent several years carefully cultivating his image as one firmly welded to the laissez-faire principle of letting matters take their own course during play without dreaming of injecting any tactical interference.

The changes ultimately worked, but if one were to quibble – and let’s face it, the interweb exists for precious little other reason – one might politely opine that we would have been better off by beginning in such manner rather than falling behind and adjusting like the dickens.

3. Moura

For all the nuanced alterations, it was Moura’s introduction that really turned the thing on its head and blew all our skirts up.

Where Son had previously ploughed an effervescent but pretty lonely furrow, Moura’s direct running noticeably achieved the double-whammy of shoving fresh handfuls of problems at a Watford defence used to the markedly less mobile threat of Llorente, whilst simultaneously giving our lot a wealth of fresh options, either in the penalty area or attacking from rather deeper districts.

He might not have scored or directly created a goal, but there were certainly hints of the early-season Moura who merrily ran riot at Old Trafford, and with Messrs Kane and Alli still some distance away from being fully paid-up members of the parish, his was a welcome return.

4. Rose, The Useful Alternative Attacking Option

The ever-feisty Danny Rose also caught the eye, as he often does. In the second half in particular he seemed rather to enjoy the self-assigned task of trying to dribble past as many yellow shirts as he could spot, at one point beating a man and then re-tracing his steps purely for the purpose of finding the same man and beating him again.

All of which would have served little purpose, but he did at least have the courtesy to sail in a few crosses at the end of it all, or at least attempt to do so. More often than not they brought corners, but in the final throes it brought Llorente’s goal, and as such he did precisely that for which he was put on God’s green earth.

Aside from such direct involvement, it was also notable how often we resort to the diagonal switch of play, from the right or centre to the feet of Rose stationed wide left, when the well of creative ideas runs dry and all in lilywhite simply mooch around with gormless faces and shrugging shoulders. Where Walker-Peters is forced to cut back onto his right, and Davies’ attacking talents are somewhat limited, Rose time and again offers a viable alternative against the deep-lying defensive units.

5. Late Comebacks: Becoming A Habit, Would You Believe?

Mercifully our persistence paid off, and not for the first time. Time and again our heroes are finding ways to drag themselves back into games and produce late wins when the outlook has been decidedly gloomy but five or ten minutes earlier. It will not win us a trophy any time soon, nor can we be considered credible title challengers, but one does get the impression that another box is being ticked this season.

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

Watford 2-1 Spurs: Four Tottenham Observations

1. Pretty Dashed Ordinary Fare

In truth I could point an accusatory digit at any one of around half a dozen of our mob today, so I’ll dish out a collective fingerwag instead. In the opening exchanges the most that could be said was that our back three looked neat and tidy. Lucas pottered around, and countless corners were swung in and headed away, but it was all about as inspiring as a view from one of the lower decks of the Titanic.

Not that Watford did much of any note either, and when a sequence of stumbles and ricochets resulted in a goal so half-baked it was barely worthy of registering, the reaction at AANP Towers was one of quizzical shrugs and relief that the job was at least being done, albeit with all the aesthetic quality of The Elephant Man on a bad hair day.

Gallingly, it took little more than for Watford to yank one or two of our lot in the cloakroom and demand their lunch money for the whole thing to come crashing down. They bullied us for around ten minutes, which was enough to tootle off with game, set and the whole dashed match. To be so simply bundled out of the way, and for that ten minute spell to be sufficient to defeat us, seems pretty ropey fare.

2. Midfield Impotence

There was something oddly impotent about our midfield throughout. Dembele, who had been making a pretty useful stab of things when hauled from the bench to sprinkle some control onto proceedings in the first couple of games this season, looked, as against United, a tad too casual about life from the off. As if the exact destination of his passing was neither here nor there, so long as one appreciated that in his head he had the right sort of idea.

Neither did he at any point really provide the sort of surge that screams “I no longer care a hang for this, I’m charging straight through the middle and if you want to stop me you’ll pretty well have to grab me by the waist and haul me down.” Young Winks had a stab at the aforementioned, bless him, during his two-minute cameo, but Dembele seemed content to shuttle the ball sideways and backwards, with the air of a man who had somewhere more urgent to be at full-time. Like the Chinese Super League, perhaps.

Christian Eriksen also gave the strangely neutered performance. There were one or two speculative pops from distance, and some token efforts to combine with Trippier on the right, but the suspicion never really disappeared that throughout proceedings he was stifling a yawn.

Admittedly, for one glorious first half moment it appeared that the whole midfield gang had been grabbed by the shoulders and rather violently shaken from their mid-afternoon slumbers, as they popped a series of first-time passes up the field, resulting in Lucas being within a cat’s whisker of a clean shot at goal. That aside, the whole performance had something of the casual about it, and we the viewing public had the right to chunter.

3. Dele’s Multiple Touches

It is hardly fair to pick on an individual, but more for the sake of venting a personal gripe, Dele Alli is doing a terrific job of frustrating the dickens out of yours truly. Throw a football – or even, one suspects, a golf ball, or pebble, or young rodent – at the blighter and you suspect he’ll trap it on his instep with nary a thought, effortlessly flick it up once or twice and nutmeg someone. His technique is not really in question.

However, if our heroes are pinging the ball around hither and thither, once it reaches the Dele size nines it stays with him and life swiftly seeps from the build-up. One- or two-touch jousting is utterly foreign to the young blister. It makes me want to sprint to the nearest brick wall and bang my head against it, such is the frustration. Just pass the dashed thing along! The chap seems physically incapable of releasing it before his sixth touch.

To give him his dues, I find an oddly mesmeric quality to his off-ball movement. On a few occasions in each game so far this season he has channelled his inner Houdini and drifted from the clutches of the nearest foe, to saunter, undetected, into the cauldron of the opposition area, and proceeded to make a nuisance of himself.

It is a pretty nifty skill. It was evidenced today when he was picked out by Toby and looped a header wide, in the first half, and may well be facilitated by the fact that we now have two hardy souls ploughing the attacking furrow.

So pros and cons to the young fish, but the point remains that if I had to swig a dram of the good stuff for every unnecessary touch he applied I suspect I would be slumped across the sofa with my excuses ready for a non-appearance in the office, before the half-time gong had sounded.

4. Kane Similarly Off-Colour

Even the poster boy was skulking around a little moodily, fluffing his lines and trotting down dead-ends, as happens to us all from time to time.

In Kane’s defence, the Job Description ever since the latter stages of the World Cup seems to have been to loiter around halfway wining free-kicks in a Shearer-esque style, so this he obediently does. The presence of Lucas tearing around further up the pitch, while jolly handy for the team, has not necessarily proven the most useful addition to Kane’s own ill-disguised agenda to score all the goals, and as a result one can pretty much count on a single hand the presentable chances he has had so far this season.

Dashed vexing then – and the eagle-eyed will have noticed that vexation is a recurring theme within today’s musings – that when he did finally have a sniff of glory, at 1-0, the young bean, who has spent the last four seasons turning Greed In Front Of Goal into a personal trademark, oddly attempted to pick a slightly unlikely pass, rather than putting his head down and swinging a left clog, or at least having the decency to cut in on his right foot and curl away.

It was simply that sort of day I suppose. No doubt things will be compounded by enemies of the Queen’s English attempting to merge the separate words “lax” and “lackadaisical” in their attempts to describe this afternoon’s lilywhite dirge, and the gloomy mood at AANP Towers will be capped off.

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…

Spurs 1-0 Watford: Five Lilywhite Observations

1. Davies

Amongst they many sunny innovations introduced by our glorious leader into N17 is the fact that when it comes to attacking, just about every man and his dog is heartily encouraged to fasten his bayonet, clear his throat and charge straight in. Admittedly Monsieur Lloris is excluded from all the fun, but at any given time we have at least seven men sniffing blood and yowling at the moon. That Kane and the three behind him will be primed to attack is a given, and Dembele is never particularly averse to puffing out his chest and bulldozing forward; but with Eric Dier obediently filling in as a third centre-back whenever we are in possession, licence is also duly granted to the full-backs to go hurtling forward at the merest whiff of an attack. (The casual reader ought to be made aware at this point that the strategy of employing a defensive midfielder to act as a locum third centre-back was first introduced by AANP on Championship Manager in the late ‘90s – albeit to slightly less devastating effect than the current Spurs vintage, as relegation was only avoided on the final day of the season as I recall.)

Back in the realms of the real world, young Messrs Davies and Trippier duly got stuck in like a pair of kids granted the bonus of opening a present on Christmas Eve of all things, as neither could be restrained from tearing forward into the final third. Davies in particular scurried forward like a man possessed, channelling is his inner Bale to set up camp in a position about twenty yards from the Leicester by-line, and the afternoon quickly became notable for the sight of him haring off into the area at approximately every thirty seconds.

Not that this gung-ho spirit alone was sufficient to win the game, cure cancer and end global poverty, for Davies’ final ball still tends to miss as well as hit – but no doubt about it, the mere presence of a left-back galloping at them in fifth gear undeniably had the Watford back-line exchanging worried looks, as if to say to one another “What ho!”

2. Trippier

A dashed shame that Davies’ forays brought little more than wistful groans from the crowd, for he deserved more. Merrily however, out on t’other flank, Trippier similarly took the hint and, having waved a cheery ‘Adieu’ to his chums in the lilywhite back-four, he spent the afternoon making himself at home in the role of de facto winger, flying forward as the right-sided member of our attacking septet. Clearly such things have an addictive edge, for not content with the role of flying winger he then went the whole hog and turned himself into a Number 9, poaching from inside the six-yard box. Young people will do such things. All a far cry from my days as an eminently forgettable schoolboy right-back when any journey north of the halfway line required a brief lie-down to cope with the drama of it all, but Pochettino knows his apples from his pears, and this season every outfield player is buying into the notion that ‘Someone has to score, dash it, so why not get involved?’

3. Profligacy

Mind you, it’s a good job that young Trippier did indeed take time out from the day-job to treat us to his Gary Lineker (circa 80s-90s) impression, because nobody else seemed to have solved the riddle of putting ball in net. Apparently we pinged in 26 shots during the course of yesterday’s binge – 26! – which really begs the question of what on earth is wrong with our heroes’ radars. Admittedly Gomes in the Watford goal was in elastic mood, but nevertheless. One goal from twenty-six shots is the sort of thing that ought to have the whole lot of them queueing up at the confessional. It is more of a side-note than a grumble, but it occurred to me as Watford won their first corner, with about ten minutes remaining, that by that stage the thing really ought to have been tucked up in bed with a soothing lullaby, rather than still hanging in the balance.

4. Lamela – Chadli

Pochettino comes across as far too good an egg to do anything as naughty as make rude gestures or anything similarly dastardly, but I do wonder whether he might have aimed a meaningful look at one or two observers, as he handed in his teamsheet. A fair amount of hot air and ink has been invested in questioning the depth of our squad this season (not least in these quarters, I should probably admit), but having made a habit of swapping his full-backs around like ping-pong balls under paper cups in some sort of magic trick, our glorious leader took his squad rotation to a new level yesterday by fiddling with the knobs and dials further up the pitch. Out went Dele Alli and Sonny Jimbo, and in came Lamela, the furry rodent that sits permanently atop Lamela’s head and Nacer Chadli.

Lamela and Chadli both did adequately enough without exactly leaving grown men quivering in speechless delight, but the proof of the pudding was in the scoreboard at around 16.52 GMT, and as such we can laud a selection well tinkered. Dele Alli was given some extra time to catch his breath and post on social media, or whatever it is the young folk do these days, and the world was reminded that there are plenty of ensemble members willing and able to slot into the spots behind the front man. And that, in as many words, is just about the point of squad rotation, no?

With Dembele having already had an enforced break this season, and young Wimmer having marked his replacement of Vertonghen with consecutive clean sheets, it appears that squad depth is not necessarily quite the headache that one had anticipated when the clocks went back a few months ago. Indeed, the only chaps whose services seem to be required come hell or high water are Dier (either in midfield or, in the Cups, at centre-back) and Kane. One does not really want to contemplate the consequences of a long-ish term absence of the latter, so we just won’t. The point is, changes can be made but our spine remains strong and the incoming personnel seem capable enough.

5. Second In The League!

And by golly, just look where we are now! Some may suggest that we have been here before, and there would be a modicum of truth in the claim – but not in mid-February, what? At the time of writing we are still at least five points clear of fifth, and still, bizarrely, in with a sniff of the title. Which is simply not a thing I ever thought would happen in my lifetime. My head currently says third, the minimum now must be fourth, and, absurdly, we have an outside shot at the title. A head-scratcher for sure. But given that at the start of the season I had realistically suggested fifth, there already seems reason enough to start sharpening the knives and throwing pointed glances in the direction of the fattened calf. Just about every Spurs fan I know has that sentiment of part-gloom, part-realism deep within their core, and consequently we are all fairly adamant that there something will go wrong between now and mid-May – but I am quite happy to worry about that at the appropriate time. For now, second in the league is a splendid way to end the weekend.

Shameless Plug Alert – AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes, continues to retail at Amazon and Waterstones, hint hint.

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