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Spurs match reports

Spurs 3-1 West Ham: Three Tottenham Talking Points

1. Bentancur

If young Bentancur had taken to the pitch wedged behind the steering wheel of a Rolls Royce I’m not sure anyone would have noticed, because he absolutely purred around the place today. I have quite the soft spot for those coves who can trap a ball on the half-turn and then switch angles and whir off on a completely new adventure, while – and here’s the rub – completing the entire project in one single movement. They give the impression of ticking about eight different tasks off the To-Do list in one swipe, generally uncluttering life.

Bentancur seemed hell-bent on making this his signature move today, and I was all for it. The ability to receive the ball in midfield while opponents converge has typically been the sort of duty greeted by our lot with the distant, petrified stare of a team of astronauts being told that the oxygen tank has been ruptured beyond repair. Panic settles in, and the best they can do is shovel the ball backwards and hope that such hellish conditions never occur again.

Bentancur, by contrast, swans around the place as if receive-ball-whilst-opponents-converge was a game he played on a daily basis when still being bounced on his mother’s knee. Time and again he received the ball half-facing his own goal, tamed the thing, swivelled into more appropriate alignment and then weighed up his options and picked a corker of a next step, all as if it were the most natural thing in the world. If West Ham rotters heaved on him he simply dipped a shoulder or two and sent them flying off into different postcodes.

It was masterful stuff, and meant that playing out from the back was not just some frantic escape route, but actually a stepping stone towards new and exciting attacks.

In previous weeks I have stuck something of an asterisk against Bentancur’s name, noting that for all his obvious dreamy goodness in possession, he was not always cognizant of the fact that there were eleven hulking brutes in opposition, doing their damnedest to tread on his toes and whatnot. He would occasionally dwell on the ball and react with some shock to being bustled off it, as if such things were not part of the T’s and C’s.

This wrong, if it could be described as such, appeared to have been righted yesterday. I kept a close on the fellow, initially to chastise him for any repeat of this offence, but swiftly because my eyes were simply drawn towards him in admiration.

If any lessons had needed learning about the pace of the game in these parts they had evidently been digested with gusto. The chap makes our team tick – perhaps not in the stats-obsessed manner of a Kane, but in a manner pretty critical to the entire apparatus.

2. Romero (and Passing Out of Defence)

If Bentancur were the critical link between defence and Kane attack, then we still needed to ferry the ball from defence to Bentancur in the first place, in order for the whole system to sound its bells and whistles.

And in the days not too long behind us, the responsibility for such missions lay at the trembling size nines of Davinson Sanchez, and occasionally young Master Tanganga. The latter, most neturals would assert, was sufficiently able to sort out his right foot from his left to be able to pick out a lilywhite shirt if pressed to do so; the former danced around the thing as if scared it would burst into flames, at best toe-poking it back to Lloris and wobbling back towards his own goal. The zenith of our passing ability with these sorts patrolling the back-line tended to be a solid biff towards the nearest wing-back.

All of which makes the presence of Romero at the right of the back-three an absolute blessing from on high. For a start, he welcomes the ball like an old friend with whom he has shared many a fond adventure. Rather than recoil in fear at its presence, and swing a leg at it like an axe-murderer getting down to business, Romero happily skips around with it by his side, much like small children used to cavort with their dogs in Enid Blyton books.

On top of which, as well as the obvious option of feeding Doherty wide on the right, Romero as often as not has both the presence of mind and the ice-cool nerve to look further infield for the next available point of contact.

I don’t mind admitting that, at first this, business of bisecting a couple of opposing midfielders in order to pick out Bentancur had the AANP heart skipping one or two pretty critical beats, and leaping up the throat and into the mouth. But the more I watched Romero deliver such passes – diagonally, fifteen yards forward and taking out a couple of opponents to reach Bentancur – the more I felt a quiet thrill.

There is a risk associated with the manoeuvre for sure, because any inaccuracy in direction or weight – or indeed Bentancur (or Hojbjerg or whomever) simply taking his eye off the thing – would result in conceding possession in a pretty frightful area.

But, as happens with these things, greater risk brings a greater reward. Bypass a couple of West Ham players en route from Romero to Bentancur, and suddenly our lot are within two shakes of a lamb’s tail of haring off towards the opposition area.

All of which is to say nothing of Romero’s actual defending, which was either top-notch or an isolated mistake swiftly followed by a top-notch recovery.

The above also overlooks the fact that Messrs Dier and Davies were also both willing and able to toe the company line in this respect. It’s pretty critical to the Conte m.o. that the defenders play the ball out from the back without succumbing to the urge to belt it over the horizon, and these three grow more comfortable by the week.

3. Kane’s Passing

Of course Harry Kane, being a rotter or some ilk, did not give a damn about all this fine spadework being applied in the background, and instead went about the place determined that if there were a headline going he was going to grab it.

In this regard Kane has fashioned for himself the particular advantage of being adept in two areas, namely those of creating and finishing chances. One might say he both maketh and taketh. If one cylinder is not firing for whatever reason, there’s a pretty strong chance the other will be; and thus did it transpire yesterday. His finishing was strangely awry, but it barely mattered, as he created all three of our goals and had a generous hand in the Sonny chance that hit the post too.

Kane’s pass for the opener was what you might call a triumph for hard work, involving as it did putting his head down, puffing his chest out, going for a run and then squaring the ball.  It was not a presentation dripping with aesthetics and finery, having much about it of the sweat-stained 80s playground footballer; but when the great minds thrash things out afterwards they’ll conclude it did the job.

This sort of stuff was pretty unusual fare from Kane, whose days of bursting past defenders seem to have long gone. He was on more familiar ground with his pass for our second, bunging in vision and weighting, and generally doing as much one could reasonably ask in such circumstances. Sonny still had to gallop forward and lash the thing, but the pass from Kane (and to him, from Bentancur) had the effect of cutting to ribbons much of the resistance around the place.

The assist for the third can probably be glossed over, owing more to the dull stupidity of the defenders around him, curiously drawn towards him and leaving Son to roam as he pleased ahead of them.

But for all these interventions, I was actually a little underwhelmed by Kane’s attempts to spray the ball around. The quarterback act is ripping stuff when it works, but he seemed to make three or four attempts in the second half – from an inside-right sort of spot around halfway, trying to pick out Son or Reguilon who were little more than specks in the distance on the left – and generally fouled up the mechanics, pinging the ball straight to the covering centre-back instead.

This is not to suggest that he should give up on the practice, or any such rot. On the contrary, I rather admire his gumption, and am all for a little risk-taking when on the attack. It just seemed to me that while he clocked his assists merrily enough, his attempts at the big, sweeping, crossfield numbers fell rather flat on each occasion he tried them yesterday. He can consider himself rather lucky that he found time to cram in three other assists, cunningly deflecting attention from his failings elsewhere.

(With apologies for going off-radar after the Brighton win – Covid rather knocks the stuffing out)

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Spurs match reports

Spurs 2-1 West Ham: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Lloris

The lot of the goalkeeper is a pretty dreary and thankless one. Make a mistake and their reputation is up in flames; but do all that is asked of them and more, and come the end of the game they’ll still look up to see that the chap being hoisted on shoulders and having their name shouted into the night sky is the middling striker who spent most of the game dribbling into trouble and failing to hold up the ball.

And last night seemed a good case in point. I thought Monsieur Lloris was near enough faultless in just about every respect, but when I donned the robe and scanned the morning papers, the headlines led me to believe that this was a single-handed Bergwijn success. For all the coverage given to the goalkeeping, the uninformed amongst us might have inferred that this was one of those cup ties in which one from the conveyor belt of unremarkable reserves was shoved between the sticks.

If I have had a criticism of Lloris over the years it is that, while his shot-stopping is right up there with the best of them, when it comes to ambling forward from his line to wave his limbs and do decisive things – command the area, collect crosses and so forth – the venerable fellow’s powers seem not so much to wane as to fall off a cliff and disappear.

Yesterday, however, Lloris set about his business as if personally piqued by such stinging criticism, and determined to address it in no uncertain terms. Limited in imagination though West Ham may have been in the first half, they executed pretty well their tactic of relentlessly swinging in crosses and set-pieces. The effect was to spoon huge dollops of confusion all over our penalty area. In short, it was the sort of situation that called for a goalkeeper to roll up his sleeves, sharpen his elbows, wade through all-comers and take charge of events.

And where previously I’ve felt that Lloris has been all too easily bullied into the background in such situations, yesterday he flung himself into the midst of them like a slightly too well-oiled Englishman abroad. He grabbed and/or punched whenever the situation required, and, in particularly extreme circumstances, back-pedalled like the dickens to arch his back and fingertip the ball away from peril.

The furniture was rearranged a tad in the second half, when our heroes followed a worryingly Jose-esque strategy of sitting back and looking to hit on the counter (although to the extent that this generally reduced West Ham to little more than hopeful pops from the edge of the area, I suppose one could argue that it worked. It did few favours for the heart-rate, mind – we are most decidedly not a team built to defend a narrow lead).

The crosses were a little less threatening and majority of shots were straight at Lloris, but on the one occasion when a ball over the top seemed to out-fox our centre-backs, Lloris had the presence of mind to gallop off his line – again, a quality he has not typically demonstrated to have been in his armoury in recent years – and crisis was averted.

It has not gone unnoticed that the fellow’s contract is up next summer, and there has not been a whisper to date around the camp-fire about it being extended, which seems something of an oversight. However, Conte seems the sort of fellow who knows his eggs, so I would imagine that some sort of plan is being hatched to address this eventuality.

2. Bergwijn

As mentioned, many of the column inches were dedicated to young Master Bergwijn, and this is understandable enough, as we live in an era in which the principal currency is Goals and Assists. (A shame, for such statistics do little justice to the talents of deep-lying creative sorts like Carrick and Modric, but that’s a debate for another day).

Bergwijn began his game in exactly the manner one would expect of someone restored to the team for the first time in an age, and with the expectant eyes of the better half of North London focused upon him. He beavered willingly but nervously, and, with each unsuccessful dribble and charged down shot, seemed to be learning on the hoof one of life’s critical lessons, that things don’t really go according to plan.

However, when, around half an hour later, things did click for him, they did so pretty spectacularly. In the first place, he might want to send a particularly fruity Christmas present the way of Hojbjerg Towers. The Dane’s sprightliness to burst into the area, followed by his presence of mind to cut the ball back, were markedly more impressive than much that had gone before, and presented Bergwijn with about as straightforward a chance as one could hope for on one’s return to the fold.

And buoyed by this sudden turn of events, Bergwijn took it upon himself to turn temporarily into Lionel Messi, wriggling around opponents in the area before teeing up Lucas (who himself might consider his goal a neat reward for that glorious pass into Kane in the early exchanges).

While Bergwijn did not necessarily thereafter replicate such heady success, he did at least look a dashed sight more comfortable in his role, joining in the slick, half-turn counter-attacking interplay with gay aplomb, and generally giving the impression of one who, as required, would probably do an adequate job of deputising for either of Messrs Son or Lucas in a 3-4-3.

A success then, and I would also highlight that this practice, of making two changes to core personnel, whilst maintaining the spine who know each other’s’ games, seems a much better way of executing squad rotation than changing eight or nine at once and expecting them immediately to gel.

3. Doherty

The rarely-sighted Matt Doherty was the other key change, and it’s probably fair to say that his evening did not quite reach the heights achieved by Bergwijn.

Which is not to fault his willing. In fact, Doherty’s performance had much in common with the early knockings of the Dutchman, being similarly full of enthusiasm, coloured somewhat by nerves and generally resulting in things not quite going according to plan.

To his credit, Doherty seemed to follow instructions positionally. He happily provided attacking width and offered himself as an option on the right, whilst also having the energy to scuttle back when the defensive klaxon sounded.

It was just a slight shame that, to put it bluntly, his crossing wasn’t up to much. It was actually rather an eye-catching curiosity that most of his crosses seemed to be dragged back behind the waiting queue of penalty area snafflers, rather than whipped into their path. Needless to say, from the comfort of my viewing perch, I have never misplaced a cross so egregiously.

However, while his output might have been better, he at least adhered to the plan, and could hardly be accused of dereliction of duties. I would be interested to see how he might perform given a run of games, because there is little about Emerson Royal to suggest that the right wing-back slot is closed for business. And as Walker & Rose – and indeed Trent & Robertson – have shown, a cracking pair of wing-backs can absolutely transform a side.

4. Dier

Having been singled out by Our Glorious Leader a day earlier as having the potential to become the ‘best in the world’ in his position – a suggestion I can only presume was intended as motivational hyperbole rather than factual prediction – Eric Dier wasted little time in correcting any such wild and fanciful notions by reminding us all of some of the flaws in his DNA.

Now before I assassinate the chap’s character, I am happy to admit that his performances in recent weeks have been amongst the brightest of the whole troupe, in terms of positioning, organisation, concentration and distribution. Moreover, the limitations of his that have previously driven me to distraction (principally his lack of pace and late, lunging challenges) are well compensated for by the switch to the back-three.

Yesterday, however, he made rather a pig’s ear of things, in his role in the West Ham goal. In the first place, his pass out of defence was dreadful, and put us in one heck of a pickle. I can only imagine he was aiming for Kane, up near the halfway line, but to attempt this pass from within his six-yard box and along the ground was a risky idea at best, and the execution pretty ghastly.

All of which is a shame, because in general his long passing from the back has been a real asset in recent weeks, adding a useful string to our attacking bow.

However, such things happen. It was then all the more unfortunate that in attempting to rectify the situation by blocking Bowen’s shot, Dier lunged off into a different postcode as the ball was flicked from left foot to right. In fairness, I don’t really blame Dier for this, as it made sense for him to spread his limbs and attempt as wide a block as possible. It just looked rather silly.

Thereafter – and, in fact, beforehand – he seemed to do all that was required of him. In the first half he was in the midst of the aerial carnage, and in the second he played his part in restricting West Ham to the more speculative stuff from the edge of the area, and then extending the necessary appendages to block said stuff. Talk of being the world’s best does still make raise an AANP eyebrow or three, and as a unit the back-three still strike me as slightly cumbersome, but they withstood the pressure last night, and Dier’s latest renaissance continues to inch along.

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Spurs match reports

West Ham 1-0 Spurs: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Kane

Thoughts to follow on the grander scheme of things, but any self-respecting mob will want to follow the scent of blood before they do anything else, so logic dictates that we grab the nearest flaming club and brandish it at the scoundrel chiefly responsible for the game’s deciding moment.

When that corner came in for Antonio’s goal, one could attest, I suppose, in purely physical terms, that Harry Kane was indeed present and in situ, socks pulled up and hair neatly combed. For some onlookers, of a more traditional bent, this might have been sufficient. But what this utter ass did not seem to compute was that simply to stroll back into the area for the corner, confirm his attendance and consider his work thereby done for that particular episode was a dereliction of duty that bordered on disgraceful.

If Antonio had the presence of mind to stick out a pedal as the ball flew across him, why the blazes didn’t Kane do likewise? Had it been up the other end, I’m willing to bet a decent chunk of the mortgage that in his quest for personal glory Kane would have happily enough elbowed out of the way anyone in his path to make sure he was first in line. So when defending, simply to stand observe as Antonio waggled the necessary limb was enough to make me absolutely bellow in fury.

Now this egregious oversight might have been excused if it had been the only blot on the Kane escutcheon today. Instead, for shame, it pretty much summed up the rotter’s entire abysmal performance. Barely a pass of his seemed to find his mark; several moves that threatened to stir into life broke down when the ball reached his feet; and when at 0-0 an opportunity arose to square the ball for a Son tap-in he misjudged the geometry pretty poorly.

One might claim that the whole display from him was unusually neutered, but, depressingly, there was nothing particularly unusual about it. Ever since throwing his toys from the pram after not getting what he wanted in the summer, this supposed model professional has largely gone through the motions. As Monsieur Lloris himself has been quick to point out, our lot lack leaders on the pitch at present, and it would be reasonable to expect Kane to be foremost in this respect. Instead, he barely seems to show even personal pride in his performances.

2. Tactics

One might argue that it is rather harsh to castigate the chap so, simply for a lack of mettle when defending a corner, but in a game of fine margins such moments make all the difference. And make no mistake, in this game the margins were wafer-fine.

Personally, I do not subscribe quite so heavily to the view that we were toothless and impotent throughout. While hardly the sort of game in which defences were merrily ripped asunder every thirty seconds, our lot did nevertheless create a handful of chances at 0-0 that, with a little more care, ought to have seen us in front. As mentioned above, Kane had the chance to square to Sonny; Ndombele had a near identical opportunity to square one for Kane; and when a pass was squared from the left for a Skipp tap-in, the baton-exchange was not quite what it ought to have been, and the ball went abaft instead of ahead of the man, which rather shot down the opportunity in its prime.

One understood the irate howls for as higher tempo as our lot carefully poked the ball sideways around halfway, as it hardly gave the impression of lung-busting urgency, but again I was inclined to bend a sympathetic ear to the players on this point. This was chiefly because West Ham did not seem to push anyone forward to press, but simply held their defensive positions, from front to back. As such, space in which to make mischief was at something of a premium. When the AANP voice-box did emit a grumble or two was on the rare occasions that a West Ham nib did fly out of position – as instead of haring away to take advantage of the vacated space, our lot continued to shovel the ball backwards, egads.

But by and large, this seemed to be a game of probing and careful nudging of chess pieces, with much responsibility on the shoulders of Messrs Lucas and Ndombele to produce the necessary fancy footwork that might drag opponents out of position. They struggled to break us down; we struggled to break them down; the game turned on some flat-footed defending from a corner.

3. Skipp

I’m not sure if it says anything too complimentary about the rest of the rabble, but with each passing game I’m increasingly inclined to think young Master Skipp the most important cog in the lilywhite machine.

He certainly seems to be one of the few on the payroll willing to do his damnedest for the cause, and several of his Fly-In-Now-Discuss-Later challenges were again in evidence today, indicating an admirable willing.

However, rather alarmingly I also noted a chink in the young bean’s armour, which, once seen, was rather difficult to unsee, if you get my drift. Namely, when the opposition attack, while our centre-backs glance upwards and attach themselves to the most appropriate attacking body – Romero to Antonio, Dier to Benrahma and so forth – Skipp appears not to appreciate the importance of picking up the second wave as it were, the sort of chappies who make a later dash into the box from midfield.

This was particularly evident when Soucek had an unchallenged header in the first half, and happened on another occasion in the first half (although if you want the names and addresses of the witnesses I’m afraid you’ll have to look elsewhere).

Hardly a fatal flaw in young Skipp’s constitution, but it did strike me that some kindly soul ought at some point to tap him on the shoulder and mention that next time an opposing midfielder puts his head down and beelines towards goal, it might be more effective to pump the arms and beeline alongside him, rather than slow to a jog and watch from afar.

That apart, Skipp was as honest as ever. He doesn’t necessarily seem to know quite what to do when up in the opposition area, and his passing hardly scythes through opposing teams – but as neither of those elements are exactly key to his output I think we can wave them by without too much fuss.

4. Odd Refereeing Decisions

Regular diners at the AANP table will be aware that I’m not generally inclined to bash referees, they being only human and the whole practice of interrogating their decisions being, to my mind, not really cricket.

However, VAR is a different kettle of fish, as this allows for – and indeed is created entirely in order to – eradicating human errors by those on the pitch. So, when the Ndombele affair in the first half was waved away as ‘No Penalty’ it would be no exaggeration to say that I popped a blood vessel, hit the roof and turned the air purple with a shower of the fruitiest profanities.

And to my dying day I will consider myself entirely just in having done so. Irrespective of what Ndombele was doing (and frankly the chap seemed to malfunction, treading on the ball with his standing foot if my eyes did not deceive), the fact remains that the defender did not touch the ball, but instead made contact with his leg. The net effect of which was that Ndombele went sprawling as the ball rolled merrily on its way.

In real-time this was rather a messy sequence of affairs, so one understands the on-pitch referee taking one look and deciding he had better things to do; but how the blazes VAR missed this is absolutely beyond me. How the hell was that not a penalty?

That apoplexy having taken the best part of an hour to subside, the AANP blood was again made to boil when Senor Romero was shown the yellow card for, as far as I could tell, the heinous crime of bending over a prostrate opponent and shouting at him. If he had shouted at the ref, I would have fully understood. If he had fouled the player, one would have vaguely followed the ref’s train of thought.

But Romero did none of the above, for heaven’s sake! He won the ball cleanly (a throw-in was awarded), then entered into frank discussion with him – and was cautioned for this! It mattered little in the grand scheme of things, but let that not distract from the fact that it was utter rot and the sort of nonsense for which the ref ought really to taken out the back and given a good thrashing.

The Ndombele incident would presuably have pretty radically altered the timeline if a penalty had been awarded, but even allowing for this, the whole production struck me as a fairly even affair, and, gallingly, one that we certainly ought not to have lost, and probably should have one.

Tweets and whatnot.

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Spurs match reports

West Ham 2-1 Spurs: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Dier, Lloris and Tanganga’s Role in the Opener

Call me old-fashioned, but I’m of the school of thought that has it that the purpose of a defence is to keep opponents as far away as possible from the goods. Something akin to the attitude of a Test batsman refusing to surrender his wicket at any cost, “Over-my-dead-body” pretty much being the anthem of choice.

By contrast, the attitude of our defence seems to be far more easy-going and liberal, seeming to suggest that if you fancy wandering straight into our inner sanctum then come right in and make yourselves at home. This was strongly evident from the off, as Lloris, Dier and Tanganga were politeness personified, not daring to do anything that might impede the serene progress of West Ham towards our holiest of holies.

The cross for the opener was undoubtedly a decent one, but nothing that a firm application of Dier’s forehead would have failed to remedy pretty swiftly, and at this stage I think most right-minded observers anticipated him taking the uncontroversial step of nodding the ball back whence it came and letting the experts get on with things further up the pitch. Dier’s decision therefore to adopt a policy of non-interference made the mind swim a bit, but this curious experiment in passivity having been executed we at least had Monsieur Lloris to fall back on.

Alas, Lloris clings to his goal-line in much the same way as a toddler might cling to a cherished blanket, and although the ball hove into view within the six-yard box, and Lloris, for clarification, was fully entitled to use his hands to affect proceedings as he saw fit, he instead took a leaf out of Dier’s “Wait and See” book. While this says much for his spirit of intellectual curiosity, it didn’t really aid us in the matter at hand.

For his part, the West Ham forward in the middle of this slapstick, Antonio, reacted with all the incredulity one would expect of a man who had heard much of the fabled spirit of generosity amongst the Tottenham defence but still could not quite believe it was happening. He helped himself to two unchallenged attempts at goal from inside six yards, and who could blame him for filling his boots so greedily?

A word in passing also for young Tanganga for his role in all this. With Dier dragged out of position by the front post runner, responsibility for chaperoning Antonio fell upon the shoulders of Tanganga. It was therefore unfortunate to see him look to his elders for inspiration, and do what Dier and Lloris had done before, by staying rooted to his position with resolute passivity, determined not to influence matters but instead to watch them unfold around him. Oh, Japhet.

To his credit Tanganga made an admirable stab at a rather brutal task against Man City last week, when he was asked to keep tabs on the combined might of Sterling and Gundogan, and in general he shown an adequate grasp of the basics to merit some time in the starting line-up, but this was the sort of sizeable clanger it is pretty difficult to laugh off.

2. Sanchez

Elsewhere in the heart of what passes these days for our defence, Davinson Sanchez made one of the smarter decisions of his entire Tottenham career to date by staying well clear of affairs for the opening goal, and entrusting duties to his colleagues.

This was about the only intelligent choice he made all afternoon. He may have avoided anything in the category of ‘Monumentally Catastrophic’, but this is hardly the sign of a job well done. In general there is much about which to shoot concerned glances when observing Sanchez in action, and for anyone wondering to what sort of things I might be referring, the chap kindly provided demonstrations of many of them today, like some grotesque form of Error-Strewn Bingo.

He misjudges the flight of aerial balls; is too easily turned inside out by any opposing attacker who has the temerity to attempt a stepover; is outmuscled too easily; appears pretty petrified of the ball when in possession, typically turning back to the goalkeeper as if afraid that the ball might combust if it moves forward; and at one point was outpaced by Declan Rice. Using the age-old AANP technique of asking who would buy him if he were available, it seems a fair bet that the queue of Champions League-chasing sides would not be stretching around the block – making one ask what the hell is he doing playing for our lot?

When watching two centre-backs struggling to negotiate the absolute basics of space and time, there is a temptation for the absence of others to make the heart grow fonder, and thus I find myself now yearning for a pairing of Toby and Rodon. But realistically, this is unlikely to present much of an improvement either.

Toby’s heart remains willing, but his flesh grows weaker with each passing match; and Rodon’s love of a dramatic sliding challenge rather masks the fact that his positional errors bring about the need for such challenges in the first place.

In short, none of the current bunch are what would you describe as a towering presence at the back, and throw in a goalkeeper whose understanding of his grasp of reality and his place within it is becoming ever shakier, and it’s a heck of a problem. Our defence (and ‘keeper) seem to be worth a two-goal deficit in each game they play.

It is probably a bit much to ask any manager to turn that disjointed and error-strewn rabble into world-beaters, but I had at least hoped on his arrival that Jose might turn our back four into something greater than the sum of their parts. There is precious little indication of this happening, which suggests that the for the foreseeable future the onus will be on the attacking mob to score at least two or three each game simply to give us a chance of a point.

3. Bale and Our Second Half in General

This being Jose’s Tottenham, we waited until two goals down before showing any particular attacking urgency, but when the penny did finally drop we put on a surprisingly compelling show. Given that the combined talents of Kane, Son, Bale, Dele, Lucas and Ndombele were all in attendance one wouldn’t expect much less, but it still made a pleasant change to feel a frisson of excitement as our lot pummelled away at the opposition.

Central to this late rally was Gareth Bale, which is not a phrase I necessarily ever expected to utter again. But there he was, in glorious technicolour, looking as if he cared, and showing an impressive knack for doing mundane things with superstar quality.

His list of merits included link-up play on the right with Doherty (albeit a deployment that was enforced when Plan A, of using Tanganga as a more containing full-back, went up in smoke inside five minutes when we went behind); occasional darts infield; runs behind the defence; and, most stylishly, the deft little flicks and nudges that on paper could be recorded as simply standing in one place and dangling a limb, but in practice amounted to gloriously misleading two or three opponents into setting off in one direction while facing in the opposite direction.

This is to say nothing of the assist for Lucas’ goal (which, by the by, I made approximately the umpteenth example of a goal from a corner since Eriksen left and took his corner deliveries with him) and the volley that grazed the crossbar. Of course, hitting the bar counts for little unless he were aiming for it – and even then it would be a pretty odd objective – but all these elements amounted to the sort of performance that was a notch or two above that of which most of his contemporaries are capable.

It bodes well. No doubt it is tempting to add a grumble that it is about damn time he boded well, having spent the last six months boding anything but, while seeming happy enough to claim his weekly envelope and not giving a fig about how things boded – but for the avoidance of doubt, this was good stuff.

In recent weeks Sonny has been slightly more reticent, as if moved to find a quiet spot out on the left and reflect, undisturbed, upon life; and Kane’s radar today was around six inches away from where it ought to have been at any given moment; but it is now conceivable that all three of these might be about to hit their straps simultaneously, and with Burnley and Fulham looming large on the fixture list, a release of some pent-up frustration would be pretty timely.

4. Lamela

The general upturn in life’s events in the final half hour – in performance at least, if not in outcome – did much to soothe the savage beast that had been unleashed within me at half-time, on learning of the withdrawal of Lamela, a bullet that Lucas rather scandalously dodged.

Lamela, as has been the case on almost every occasion since his return, struck me as the pick of our bunch while in attendance. His little dribble from halfway to a spot well beyond, to set up Kane, struck me as a masterclass in how to run at pace away from would-be antagonists while being spectacularly one-footed and still managing to effect trademark stepovers even though nothing about the circumstances should, by rights, have allowed such a thing.

And in general, he combined his usual urgency with some decision-making that was probably as sensible as the situation allowed. Naturally he also found time for that customary combo of a yellow card for a late challenge aligned with a look of utter incredulity, but there is much to love about an attacker who is so affronted at not having possession that he considers it within his rights to fly into his man with the full force of every available limb in order to win the thing back.

By contrast, and as ever, any good intentions Lucas might have had at kick-off were swiftly drowned beneath his irrepressible urge to be dribbling at any point and in any part of the field, irrespective of whether the situation demanded such an undertaking or otherwise.

We will always have Amsterdam, of course, and there are times when to beat an opponent or two does everyone a service, but watching the chap get his head down and race off mazily into a cul-de-sac I cannot help but feel the I have watched him play the same game for Tottenham about a hundred times.

Of the aforementioned sextet of attacking talent with which we ended the game, Lucas struck me as arguably the weakest link, and in the straight shootout perennially in my head between Lucas and Lamela, the latter is comfortably ahead. I can only assume that Lamela, rather than Lucas, was hooked at the interval because of Lamela’s yellow: but in future weeks I expect to see a front four of Kane, Son, Bale and Lamela.

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Spurs match reports

Spurs 3-3 West Ham: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. The Second Half

What with the early carousing in which everything turns to gold, followed by a feeling ultimately of feeling sick to the stomach, this had all the hallmarks of a particularly exuberant night out for which one pays pretty heavily the next day. ‘Moderation’ is generally a watchword at AANP Towers until the drink starts to flow, and between you and me there has been more than one occasion on which I have woken bleary-eyed on the bathroom floor, still wearing the previous night’s layers, with head pounding like the dickens and a ghastly taste in the throat, leaving me to wonder at precisely what point things went from Rip-Roaring-Fun to Oh-So-Terribly-Wrong.

I mention this regrettable morning-after sentiment because that same question – of the point at which things went from RRF to OSTW – seems pretty ripe here.

It would be easy to suggest it was half-time – and the trail of breadcrumbs certainly points to our lot failing remotely to match West Ham’s second half lust for battle.

But here at AANP Towers there were one or two mutterings of discontent even in the first half, even amidst the Kane-and-Sonny double-act, because whenever West Ham probed down the flanks our lot seemed to make quite the song and dance about simply putting out the fires and getting on with life. While it was true that every time we attacked we looked like scoring, and a three-goal lead ought to have been plenty, our back-four could hardly have been described as hammock-swinging and cigar-puffing at any point.

Nevertheless, with a three-nil lead at home to middling opposition, the decent thing to do would have been to shuffle off with all three points. But whereas in the first half we cleared the set-pieces and had some generous spells of midfield possession – with occasional breakneck forward thrusts – in the second half it seemed the urgency levels were gently dialled down as the clock ticked towards 90. Where Ndombele, and Hojbjerg in particular, were pulling strings in the first half, they gently faded into the background in the second.

I suppose, just as one can identify the precise Jagerbomb on the night-before as the moment at which events suddenly veered south, one can point to the removal of Son and his energy, or Sissoko’s failure to challenge for a header at a set-piece, as turning points here. And such individual moments certainly did seem to contribute to the general malaise.

However, unlike the Newcastle last-minute equaliser a few weeks back, we can hardly claim that this was a bolt from the blue – our lot allowed West Ham to have too much of the game in the second half.

2. Aurier and the Void Between his Ears

This was probably one for ‘Collective Responsibility’ rather than zooming in on the obvious, traditional cause of calamity, but as we were increasingly on the defensive in the second half, and given that most of the damage was being done on the flanks, I took it upon myself to conduct a thorough study of Serge Aurier’s second half activity; and, unsurprisingly, the results made for pretty dubious viewing.

It may have been tactically ordained from on high, but Aurier constantly seemed to be ten yards further forward than the rest of the back-four. This obviously accommodated his impulse to attack, which made sense, and Sissoko more often than not slotted in behind him to cover.

This in itself seemed reasonable enough. Not a tactic with which I was terrifically thrilled, but one accepts such things with good grace. What irked no end, however, was that when possession was lost and the defensive gong had clearly sounded, Aurier tended to do little more than watch events unfold from ten yards away. When he ought to have been busting a gut to return to his quarters, he rarely did more than saunter back.

It was disturbing quite how often he was simply in the wrong position. This seemed to be compounded by his urge to race into tackles in midfield – simply because he happened to be in the vicinity. A dollop or two of defensive nous might have encouraged him to leave midfield battles for the midfielders, while he hurried back to his right-back post, but such thoughts rarely seemed to occur.

It was all a little odd, and I rather wish I had studied Reguilon on the other flank to see if similar events were unfolding there.

And then, to compound matters, in the dying seconds Aurier managed in a single movement to segue from being comfortably in possession to needlessly losing possession and conceding a free-kick, from which the equaliser was scored. All the attacking benefits in the world cannot convince me of that man’s worth as a defender.

3. Early Thoughts on Bale

Whisper it, but the much-heralded return of Gareth Bale proved to be one heck of a damp squib, as tends to be the case when one wanders onto the pitch and sees things immediately fall apart at the seams just in time for the final whistle.

Not since the signings were announced of Edgar Davids, and before him Jurgen Klinsmann, has the excitement at AANP Towers reached such giddy levels. For ten mind-boggling minutes we were even treated to the Son-Kane-Bale axis in all its glory. Nothing happened, as all three, in their own unique ways, all looked pretty shattered – but there it was! Actually unfolding!

In time, one suspects those three will absolutely blitz some poor, honest souls who amble up on the wrong day. This, however, was not that day. Bale, frankly, did not look fit. I suspect no-one begrudges him that, and at three-nil with twenty minutes to go it ought not to have mattered, but I suppose we will simply have to wait a few more weeks before that front-three fires on all cylinders.

A dashed shame that Bale fluffed his lines when the big moment arrived, particularly having done the hard work, but he seemed to receive an untimely shove that knocked him off his axis at the crucial moment. The good times will presumably roll soon enough.

4. Deep-Lying Kane

On a brighter note, the japes of the first sixteen minutes were all sorts of fun!

What seemed to begin as a mere whim or flight of fancy of Harry Kane’s, to drop deep and show off his passing range, now seems to have evolved into a bona fide plan, which presumably has files saved online and a ring-binder containing notes and coloured post-its in Jose’s inner sanctum.

When our lot begin passing from our own goal kick, Kane now stations himself in midfield as a matter of permanent residence, in order to collected the lofted ball and make merry.

Things are a little different when we’re in possession around halfway, in which case normality resumes and he’s as likely to be the attacking spearhead; but if the opposition defence is pushed up to halfway, Kane’s drill is to sow his wild oats from a deep-lying starting position.

And why not? His passing is sublime, and his runners willing. Teams will presumably suss this out and deploy appropriate counter-measures – but in a way this will be where the fun really does begin, because we have the option of simply having Kane wander back into attack, and dragging opponents with him.

5. Clinical Finishing

The heading ‘Clinical Finishing’ rings a little hollow now, admittedly, but in the opening twenty minutes or so our finishing was the very dictionary definition of clinical.

I recall several years ago in an away Champions League match – possibly Barcelona, possibly Dortmund – when Son was clean through and shot straight at the ‘keeper, I gave the blighter an absolutely rollicking for several weeks afterwards. Not much point, of course, as he couldn’t hear me, but I was convinced at the time that the lad was not one of nature’s born finishers.

Things have moved on somewhat since then, and now Sonny is as deadly as they come when the frame of the goal looms into view. I did rather titter at the West Ham defender who did not think to prevent his right-footed shot in the first minute – it seems a safe bet that the entire watching global audience could see what Son was going to attempt as soon as he collected the ball – but it’s one thing attempting such manoeuvres and another thing crossing the t’s and dotting the I’s, and these days Sonny just doesn’t seem to miss.

Credit also to Kane for rolling out the double-nutmeg for his first goal, and a slap on the back for young Senor Reguilon and his glorious first-time cross, which practically begged to be nodded home. I cannot imagine that I was the only one who wondered how many attempts that might have taken Ben Davies.

Our lot can barely be contained going forward – if we could just work out how to defend (and no, Eric Dier is not the answer) just imagine where this season would take us. For now, however, it seems all action, no plot.

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Spurs match reports

Spurs 2-0 West Ham: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Kane Getting Back Up to Speed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Dele’s Free(Ish) Role

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Lo Celso Easing Into The Groove

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

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

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

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

4. Ndombele – Persona Non Grata

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

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

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

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

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

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Spurs match reports

Spurs 0-1 West Ham: Five Tottenham Talking Points

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1. Squad Depth

Galling stuff, with a distinct flatness about the place, particularly in the second half – but I suppose one has to take the rough with the smooth, and stiffen the upper lip accordingly.

Though easy to criticise in hindsight, the first half actually wasn’t so bad. Admittedly not of the ilk that will be seared into the consciousness for generations to come, but some of the link-up play from the front four bordered on the Pretty Darned Effective, and but for six inches here and a goalkeeper’s paw there we might have been ahead.

However, once that horrible lot had their noses in front, our attacking sorts almost visibly ran out of steam. It was like watching a child’s wind-up toy slowly grind to a halt, as there was simply no puff left in the little cheeks of Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen. One might have had the urge to dash out and offer a consoling pat to their shoulders, if one were not so frustrated by the dashed thing.

Disturbing times, and all the more irritating for the fact that every man, woman and child about the place has seen this coming a mile off. Failure to supplement the squad with either first-rate starters or useful reserves has come home to roost in pretty predictable fashion, and murmurs about our lack of squad depth were all the rage on the sparkling concourses yesterday.

Even ignoring the injured personnel, the lack of squad depth means that those who do play do so with diminished fizz. This actually makes perfect sense, because these good citizens are being asked to perform to the peak of their powers at a pretty relentless rate. If it’s not a Champions League tie against one of Europe’s elite it’s invariably a domestic joust with a Premier League team that thinks better of rolling over and having its tummy tickled.

The generous thing would be to invest in some personnel of vaguely comparable talent, to allow Eriksen the occasional weekend with feet up and bourbon in hand; but instead the liliywhite barrel is being scraped for whippersnappers and cast-offs, none of whom are fit for purpose, so every last drop of energy is wrung from the A-listers – and we end up losing winnable games such as this.

2. Absent Friends

On occasions such as this one’s heart rather yearns for Harry Kane. The strength to hold up the ball, the nous to drop deep, the sheer gall to look both ways, shrug his shoulders and have a biff from 25 yards – qualities which Kane possesses by the sackload, and which were conspicuously absent from the various reserves out on parade yesterday.

With the attacking sorts on show haemorrhaging both ideas and energy, one could not help but wistfully wonder what difference Kane might have made.

Similarly, the heart grows fonder for Moussa Sissoko as his absence continues. In fact, the heart grew fonder for the old bean even in his presence too. In this post-Dembele era, he and he alone is capable of picking up the ball and driving twenty or so yards with it, and it is the sort of urgency from which we would have benefited mightily yesterday.

Little that can be done about it now of course, but the whole sorry spectacle seemed to ram home in no uncertain terms the fact that these two have become pretty indispensable cogs in the machinery.

3. Juan Foyth (Or The Gradual Erasure From Existence of Kyle Walker-Peters)

Returning to more pertinent matters, yesterday marked another experimental twiddle of the Pochettino thumbs, as Juan Foyth was square-pegged in at right-back again.

The young imp had a fairly eventful time of things. In the credit column he could boast a forward foray or two, to occasionally useful effect – including the last-minute dash that almost brought Janssen a moment of glory.

At times Foyth’s little dribbles seemed to strike oil due to accident rather than design, the ball appearing to escape his whirring limbs and rather kindly pop back into his path to invite him to have another go; and at other times he simply got his sums wrong and spurned some handy opportunities.

In the debit column, more than once he was marooned miles up the pitch as West Ham broke, a white dot in the green distance, providing a sterling example of a chappie lacking the positional awareness that would come with a lifetime of right-backing, and instead looking every inch a wide-eyed youth drinking in a new experience with little grasp of what was unfolding.

But aside from the pros and cons of Foyth’s performance in the role, his selection raised a broader existential question about young Kyle Walker-Peters. From an opening day headline-making performance against Newcastle last season, via a flawed but admirable fist of things in the Nou Camp a few months back, the whippersnapper’s star has taken one heck of a tumble, as he now finds himself fourth-choice right-back, and fit for little more than a watching brief, even as colleagues drop like flies.

It has been a curious move from Our Glorious Leader to prefer Foyth – himself hardly an expert in the rigours of central defence, let alone full-back – to KWP, a full-back by trade, particularly given the faith demonstrated in the latter to date in his career. Quite what this means for KWP’s future at the club is anyone’s guess, but there is something vaguely Orwellian about the way in which Walker-Peters is being erased from existence.

4. Danny Rose, And The Implications For The Ajax Match

Another rather loaded selection was that of Danny Rose, for the second time in four days. Alas, AANP is not privy to the medical records of the great and good of N17, but I have been labouring under the impression that angry young Master Rose is not a fellow whose constitution can bear two games within a week. The sight of him taking to the starting blocks twice in four days therefore prompted a scratch of the head and stroke of the chin, as all manner of permutations raced through the bean.

Foremost amongst them was the question of whether this meant Rose will now be unfit for parade against Ajax on Tuesday. This, if it transpired to be the case, would be a dashed shame, for Rose is nothing if not filled with the spirit of battle, and his snarl and aggression would be of huge benefit in a Champions League Semi-Final.

The deployment of Rose, coupled with the complete absence from the squad of my best mate Jan Vertonghen, does prompt me mischievously to peddle the notion that Vertonghen might be selected as left-back vs Ajax. With Pochettino in his current, creative mood, there is no telling who might start in which positions.

5. Positive Signs From Davinson Sanchez

On a day of pretty grim tidings I did at least take some encouragement from a central defensive display from Davinson Sanchez that at times had something of the Ledley about it.

The chap is blessed with a rare but most useful combination of pace and upper-body strength, and both were on show at various junctures yesterday. There were a couple of notable sprints to un-muddle defensive lapses, on top of which he deserved some credit for keeping a beady eye on Foyth – which frequently meant haring across to the right to cover for the errant full-back.

Not a flawless showing – for if anyone were to blame for the goal we conceded (and it is debatable that anyone were) then he appears to have been the prime suspect – but as the mind flits towards the future and a potential post-Toby era this at least provided a shimmer of positivity.

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Spurs match reports

Spurs 1-1 West Ham: Five Lilywhite Observations

strong>1. These Sort of Games: A Lament

Times, as the old bird murmured, are a-changing, and he may have had a point. It would not have happened in the day of WG Grace and chums, but in the modern game it is virtually the norm for one team to help themselves to 70% plus of possession and still spend the entirety scratching their heads as to how to win the dashed thing.

As recently as ten years ago, any team dominating the game thusly would rack up a hatful of goals and have cigars out long before time was called. These days however, there are pretty much 14 teams in the Premier League who are perfectly content to set up with nine or ten at the back and high-five their way home with a point in the bag.

It’s a riddle facing each of the Top Six, and at a loose guess I would suggest that our heroes drop points once in every half dozen or so of these games. If you expect that I have the solution you can dashed well eat your hat, but sometimes these things need to be said, and AANP may have been called many things, but a man to shirk his civic duty is not one of them.

It all seems to have sprung from the sackfuls of Champions League money hoovered up by the Top Six or so, creating in effect a league within the Premier League – or indeed two leagues, if you want to be particularly clever. And the whole bally thing is ruining the spectacle, because teams rarely go toe to toe any more. Further proof, if ever it were needed, that we should bring back the ‘90s.

2. Formation: A Complaint

As for the game itself, one would have to be particularly mean-spirited to chide our heroes for failure to triumph. The Wembley turf, one imagines, is bedewed with the good honest sweat of a race run, just forty-eight hours after ploughing through the swamp at Swansea.

If I have any recrimination, it is squarely aimed at our glorious leader. Having made the fairly progressive decision to use 4-1-4-1 away to Swansea, I can grudgingly accept that the reversion to 4-2-3-1 made a degree of sense at kick-off. This, after all, was West Ham’s Cup Final, and therefore one might expect them to pack some sort of punch. A midfield screen of Sissoko and Dier was, one accepts, not entirely the sort of insane guff that would have one led to the nearest padded cell.

However, by half-time it was pretty clear that the dreadful bilge being peddled by our guests rendered fairly redundant a defensive screen of two heavyweights. Moreover, while our lot were looking feisty enough, and producing the occasional slick passing combo, an extra attacking threat would have been welcomed aboard with gusto.

In short, the game was screaming out for a switch to 4-1-something-something (either 4-1-4-1 or 4-1-3-2), but Poch, as is his wont, kept his arms folded and persisted with one too many defensive types, until we were one down.

3. Sissoko: A Rant In No Uncertain Times, I Assure You

I have tried rather valiantly, in recent weeks, to identify the silver linings around the worthless, malcoordinated cloud that is Sissoko, but yesterday’s performance was utter tripe, even by his low standards.

How he is a professional footballer at all beggars belief, let alone an ever-present in our team and a member of the French international squad. The chap lumbered around like he understands the game less and less with each passing minute, comfortably the worst lilywhite on display. There might be some value in switching him to central defence, where his principal strength – namely, well, his strength, and general speed and power – can be utilised without having to torture onlookers with his rampant inability to control the dashed thing.

Such were my levels of apoplexy last night that I had to steady the nerves with an extra splash of bourbon, and hum the lines of one or two of the less aggressive arias. This rot simply has to stop.

4. Alli Improvement

On a brighter not, young Dele seems gradually to be rediscovering what it was that had everyone running around in a flap last season.

Let there be no mistake, his penchant for dwelling on the ball every time he touches it continues to try the soul, but he bobs about the centre with a bit more purpose than in previous months, and is beginning to make those marvellous Platt/Scholes-esque dashes into the penalty area that have the pulse quickening and one shouting an excited “Hoi!”

I admit I groan rather when one of our much-vaunted counter-attacks lands at his feet, for he will as sure as dash it suck all the speed out of the process. Broadly speaking, however, his dial is pointing back in the right direction, and this bodes well.

5. Eriksen Replacement

Difficult not to open one’s heart and reel off sweet nothings at the chap, no? His technique, his wicked dead-ball delivery, his sheer vim and eagerness to pick a match-winning pass – most of what is good at some point or other will pass through his bloodstream.

It makes the inner pessimist rather fret of what might happen should some malady befall him. With the Transfer Window now once again open I would like to see a creative type leap aboard the good ship Hotspur (and no, I don’t mean the chap Barkley).

Even in rude health it is probably unreasonable to expect Eriksen to mastermind all things creative, week in and week out. The return of Lamela is certainly welcome, but there is definitely scope for another blighter capable of dipping his shoulder and producing a spot of ooftah from nowhere. Particularly in games such as these, when our lot have to sit around the camp fire and work out how the devil to unpick a ten-man defence.

Three wins and a draw is not the worst festive return. We sit on the shoulder, as, famously, did Dame Kelly in 2004, and things worked out fairly sparko for her.

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Spurs match reports

Spurs 2-3 West Ham: Five Lilywhite Conclusions

1. Lethargy, Via His Master’s Voice

A tad difficult to burn with passion either way about this one. Our heroes sleep-walked into a lead, snoozed through to half-time and then sleep-walked into defeat. At no point before, during or after did anyone appear to care a hang for the thing, which had all the intensity and passion of a toddler’s morning lie-down.

While it would be easy to jab a digit of blame towards the players for their complacency and resolute determination to avoid moving into anything higher than third gear, I do wonder if at least a smidgeon of responsibility ought to lie with a higher power. Take, as a starting point, Exhibit A. Out glorious leader, waxing lyrical a prior to yesterday’s game. “Our objective is to try to win the Premier League and the Champions League. For me, two real trophies. That can really change your life.” So far, so reasonable. “And then the FA Cup, of course, I would like to win.” A little off-piste, but still making sense I suppose. “I would like to win the Carabao Cup. But I think it will not change the life of Tottenham.”

Notice anything? Do you get the sense that, for a man whose veins course with steely determination, there was something of a laissez-faire attitude about this competition? Well whether or not you or I picked up on any hint of ambivalence, the players dashed well tuned into his master’s voice and nailed their colours to the mast of not giving a jot either way.

One does not need a degree in rocket science to snaffle the gist of the thing, straight off the bat. Real and Liverpool last week, Man Utd and Real again next week, with Arsenal and Dortmund to come – these are sizeable fish that need frying, in competitions that it makes perfect sense to prioritise.

Nevertheless, some sort of nagging voice seems to carper away, in much the same way one’s conscience might if you turn a deaf ear to the homeless chappie asking for spare change. Was this really the right way to go about our business?

2. Llorente and His Silky Caress

Clear – or, indeed, cunningly subliminal – though the orders may have been to lay down arms, wave a white flag and read a good book while letting nature take its course, for the first hour or so at least, we were treated to a glimpse of what happens on the training ground, as some of the lesser lights took the opportunity to peddle their wares.

With Harry Kane being delicately covered from head to toe in cotton wool, Senor Llorente was amongst those given the opportunity to perform for the baying public. And perform he did, with all manner of light touches and silky caresses.

The chap might not be able to break into a sprint if the future of mankind depended upon it, but shunt the ball towards him in ungainly fashion while he has his back to goal, and he will perform some glorious footballing alchemy, turning the thing into an opportunity to progress with an array of exquisite flicks, straight into the path of an onrushing chum, and with impeccable weight on the pass too.

As if to emphasise the balletic nature of the man, the gods saw fit to place the indelicate lump that is Andy Carroll on the same pitch, for everyone to indulge in a game of Compare-and-Contrast.

3. Danny Rose Back in the Fold

On which note, one of the highlights that briefly me started me from all that dozing me was the sight of Danny Rose sending Andy Carroll flying, without breaking sweat.

The notion of resting the first-choice mob in preparation for scaling the heights vs Man Utd and Real rather sailed out of the window when it came to left-backs, with both Rose and Davies employed for the best part of 90 minutes. Still, it was the perfect opportunity for Rose to rev up the motor once again, and the young bounder seemed to enjoy himself, taking fairly literally the licence to roam forward and consequently finding himself as central midfield playmaker and auxiliary centre-forward at various points.

His hair might have undergone a rather discombobulating change, but he remains barrelsome of chest and appears still to have fire in his belly, so Rose-tinted spectacles make this a successful comeback.

4. Sissoko Turns A Corner. Maybe.

Seasoned visitors to these parts will now that Moussa Sissoko has never exactly been the plat du jour at AANP Towers, and even this supposed renaissance season has appeared to me be something of a sham, with onlookers tripping over themselves (much like the man himself) to laud him when no laud is deserved. Ungainly is fine if married to effectiveness – see Kane. H, Esq. Sissoko this season has continued to churn out barrel-loads of ungainliness, but his outputs have barely improved from last season.

Until yesterday. It may only have been West Ham reserves, who in the first half at least truly looked the worst team we have ever faced, but Sissoko at least had managed to untangle his feet, and started to look quite the attacking force. His powerful running has long been his saving grace, but yesterday it appeared that he had finally got his head round the most basic elements of physics, and started to understand the basic mechanics of a ball.

He was at the heart of much that was good, and, crucially, did not trip over his feet or collide with a lamp post or overrun the ball once (that honour went to poor old GKN, in his over-enthusiasm to impress).

5. Son, Dele And The Number Ten Role

Word reached me during the game yesterday, via the medium of a chum on whatsapp, that somewhere in the world Stuart Pearce had apparently been pontificating that Son was a better Number 10 than Alli.

It struck me that the broken clock was doing its thing, because to date this season I would say that that is more or less correct. Dele has pottered around hither and thither when employed behind the front man, but to little meaningful effect. A lot of attempted dribbles and nutmegs, and too many dives and exaggerations for my liking, but not as much impact as ought to be the case when collecting the weekly envelope.

Yesterday he was again shifted southwards into central midfield, and Son took the more advanced scoop. And, yet again, he did a decent job – particularly in the first half (for some reason his radar went awry in the second half, and he struggled to strike oil with even the most basic six-yard pass).

Son buzzed around, beat his man and played intelligent passes (until he was rendered incapable of passing accurately), generally doing all that one would hope Dele would do when similarly requested.

It seems sacrilegious to suggest that England’s Next-But-One Great Thing be dropped, but with big games on the horizon, I wonder if our grand fromage is considering starting with the more reliable man on current form. Something for the great and good to ponder, perhaps.

Categories
Spurs match reports

Spurs 4-1 West Ham: 4 Lilywhite Observations

1. Man-Love For Dembele

As is the vogue these days, all manner of stats have been trotted out to do homage to the performance of Dembele. Tackles, touches, passes, interceptions – the man apparently won the numbers game hands down, which is excellent news for those who like their pivot tables on a Monday morning. In more practical terms it was, as ever, a joy to observe the chap in such fine fettle. Blessed with his curious combo of barrel-chested Samsonesque strength and footwork smoother than a particularly debonair silkworm, Dembele has the capacity to float like a butterfly while stinging like an angry minotaur, and games are being duly dictated from his lair in the centre.

2. The Best And Worst of Walker

It feels like ever since AANP was but a twinkle in the eye, the life and works of K. Walker Esquire have divided opinions amongst the lilywhite hordes. Bang on cue, both the prosecution and the defence made fairly compelling cases, and one suspects that nobody who previously held an opinion will have seen a reason to change course.

For the best part of proceedings Walker spent the day tearing up the wing to offer cheery companionship to whomever had the ball infield, acting for all the world like a de facto winger. On top of which he appeared for much of the thing to have his defensive duties down to a t, producing on a couple of occasions that signature upper-body move of his – the one that shields the thing as it trickles out of play, while an opponent tries in vain to budge him and simply bounces off. Even when he picked up a rather daft booking for handbags in the latter stages I was happy enough to shrug it off, for the chap was simply showing some fire in his belly, and over the years that has been a rare commodity. Then came his goal, a sumptuous finish to a cracking little move – and all seemed right with the world.

Alas (and inevitably, his detractors would say), there then followed not so much a mental aberration as a decision en masse by every one of his brain cells to vacate the premises, and Walker delivered his token Walker moment. Two or three minutes that summed up the blighter in a microcosm (well, two microcosms I suppose). A favourite he remains in this corner of the interweb – but detractors gonna detract.

3. Alli And Dier Pick Up Where They Left Off

Much has been made of the elevations of Alli and Dier to the national stage, and on their returns to the Lane they duly did the sensible thing by picking up where previously they had left off. Alli remains a little rough around the edges, understandably enough, but even when he makes the odd wrong decision or his touch lets him down, the nature of his play – by which I mean that willingness to breeze into the penalty area and sniff around for scraps – gives all sorts of benefits to the team as a whole. One does not have to squint too hard to recall the days when poor old Kane (or whomever) would be checking his armpits and breath for explanations as to why nobody would go anywhere near him. With Alli in the team (and nods of acknowledgement are also due to young Sonny Jimbo) there is at least always a second body in attack to keep the opposition defence honest.

This being Spurs, and old habits die rather hard, so naturally the air in AANP Towers pre kick-off was rich with the smell of pessimism. Where Heskey, Martins, Benteke and others had gone before, yours truly was envisaging Andy Carroll going today – namely the little road named Bundle The Soft-Centred Lilywhite Defenders Out Of The Way And Bludgeon In A Goal Avenue. The probability was amplified by our bizarre brittleness in the face of the aerial challenge from that ‘orrible lot up the road a couple of weeks back.

Credit therefore to the back-four and, in particular, Young Master Dier, for standing up to Carroll, shoulder to shoulder and elbow to elbow. Ironically enough, where this gloomy doom-monger had prophesied all manner of woe from set-pieces, it was glorious to observe a cracking set-piece goal from our lot instead. Both delivery and movement were worthy of a tip of the hat.

4. A Goal In Poch’s Image

When Senor Pocehttino downed tools and hits the sack for his eight hours of tired nature’s sweet restorer, I would hazard a bet that the goal that afforded him the most pleasure was the third. A goal cast in the manager’s very own chubby little features, it was born of energetic, high pressing by the younglings, swarming all over the opposition defence. The gist of the thing is typically to make the opposition punt the ball aimlessly towards us in our own half, so to bypass all that and pilfer a goal was quite the well-earned bonus.

So in the final analysis it was nutritious and delicious goodness all round. It ended up with near total dominance – four goals, the woodwork a couple of times, a dozen shots on target and plenty of showboating – but the game had begun evenly and feistily, and our lot ground down the visitors and forced their way ahead. Being young and sprightly they will presumably stumble here and there, but this was an absolute triumph for the Pochettino way, and they duly deserve a day or two of basking.

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