All Action, No Plot

Tottenham Hotspur – latest news, opinion, reports, previews, transfers, gossip, rants… from one bewildered fan
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Villa 1-2 Spurs: Post Mortem on Kaboul & Capoue

The eagle-eyed amongst you might have noted that the best part of 48 hours have elapsed since the curtain came down on events Villa Park, but for that long have I been ruminating on the various ills within our mob, and particularly the rearguard.

Attack

Up in attack, while things can hardly be said to be beetling along in a state of serene success, the general gist of things is just about in credit rather than debit. Chances are at least being made.

Every now and then Chap A finds Chap B, Chap C spins around the back, Chap B slides in Chap C, who neatly pings it back to Chap A, and you sit back and wonder why we lose so many of these dashed games. Admittedly one of the chaps will then hit the ‘keeper rather than the net, but at least we have the beginnings of the right idea.

Defence

At the back however, any good being done by the forwards is being heartily undone, with generous lashings of interest, by a back-four fast becoming a parody of themselves. Kaboul’s head appears to swim like a man trying to make sense of the previous paragraph. It’s all very well looking incredibly mean, imposing and just about The Ultimate Bad-Ass at every break in play, but once the nitty-gritty begins he seems to have taken to closing his eyes, swiping a limb in the loose direction of things and hoping for the best. I fancy it might be time to take the batteries out of the old bean and leave him to collect some dust on a shelf somewhere.

With Kaboul running the show it is little wonder that our back-four as a unit has all the resistance and backbone of a particularly gloomy sandcastle. Sure enough, a Villa side that had not managed a goal since around 1997 were soon rattling shots at us from all angles, and within 15 minutes had their lead.

A Short Grammar Lesson

Referees are disinterested.

Vertonghen, Adebayor and the various other assorted prima donnas, with bags of quality but little passion for the club, are uninterested.

Capoue Watch

You know how it is when you suddenly realise that the chap sitting next to you in the office has an annoying habit of clicking his fingers three times every time his computer-box receives a telegram? Once you are aware of it you cannot stop noticing it, and before you know it you can think of nothing else, until it gets to the point that you either want to thrash his head or your own head against something solid and flat. Well thus do I feel about Capoue.

What does the blighter do? It was something I asked myself a few weeks ago, more as a matter of procedure than due to any particular vendetta, you understand, but several weeks on the question still lingers in the air, and with a nasty whiff to it. So on Sunday I watched him like a leopard, and once again his anonymity was thunderously conspicuous.

In his defence he does occasionally show faint signs of life – a crossfield pass here, a Capital One Cup slalom forward there – but on Sunday it generally seemed that he was content to jog around the place in Ryan Mason’s slipstream, always maintaining a careful 10-yard distance from the ball. When Benteke hammered against the post early on, Capoue could be seen jogging along, in the vicinity but not in the action. When Villa scored their goal, Capoue could be seen jogging along, in the vicinity, but nowhere near the chap who flew in to score. And so on.

Positives

Young Mason continues to charge around with the enthusiasm of a slippery, young whelp, and although his radar went awry in the final 15 his was another fairly encouraging performance. Much has been said of Master Kane, and although the hyperbole has got so far ahead of itself that it has begun to trip on its feet (a piece in the Standard yesterday seemed to be comparing him to Bale) the chap seems to make the right noises. And as mentioned at the top of the programme, when our forwards do click, it really does make the pulse race somewhat.

Red Cards and Whatnot

So going forward we were moderate, at the back we were various shades of awful. Although we created some presentable chances at various points, we hardly looked like controlling the thing until the red card. On which note – Messrs Mason and Vertonghen can consider themselves fairly lucky. As with penalties conceded in recent weeks, rather than moan about harsh decisions the players could simply avoid doing the daft things that give the refs a decision to make.

All told it was no doubt a blessed relief for our glorious leader. The poor old fruit must gaze a little wistfully back at Southampton, where lions lie with lambs and happy rainbows spring up left, right and centre. With each game I see I increasingly feel that we must simply muddle through this season as best we can, then let Pochettino do what he wants with the squad and gauge him properly on 2015/16.

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

Man City 4-1 Spurs: The Definitive Verdict On All 4 Pens

Since the players could not blow their nose without that wretch awarding another penalty this afternoon, it might simplify things to report on things by giving names to the various spot-kicks. So the one that involved Lampard, Lamela and possibly a gust of wind we shall christen ‘Reginald’; the red card fiasco will be ‘Phyllis’; our glorious opportunity shall be known as ‘Maxine’; and the other one can be ‘Greg’.

Reginald

Opening blows had already been exchanged when Reginald struck. Lamela appeared to tickle Lampard with a feather, and that proved all the encouragement needed for our resident law-enforcer.

A salutary lesson here for young Lamela. Like Dier against Liverpool earlier this season (let’s call that one ‘Jan-Michael’, for simplicity), the alleged foul was as soft as the luxurious fur of some endangered species of animal, but the moral of the story is clear enough – just don’t give the referee the option to make such calls. There was no reason for Lamela to nestle up to Lampard from behind, as the City man waddled into the area. Leave him alone man, leave that to one of those chaps facing the right way. (Although ardent followers of ‘Greg’ might beg to differ, but more on that later).

Greg

I rather lost track of the chronology of the thing, but Greg was the clearest penalty of the lot, involving as it did Monsieur Kaboul’s latest real-time demonstration of his waning powers. Once upon a time this chap was quite the colossus – all barrel chest, thundering pace and perfectly-sculpted eyebrows. These days it seems that he has it in his contract to magic from thin air a seismic blunder, as if to illustrate to young protégé Chiriches in vivid HD precisely how one should create catastrophe in the heart of the defence. Bang on cue he flew into a needless, mis-timed lunge, and Greg was born. ‘Sacre bleu’, poor old Hugo presumably mutters to himself, as he views the carnage ahead of him, before pulling off his latest astonishing save. He deserves better.

Phyllis

Another from the Chiriches School of Complete Mental Absence, there could be no doubt that Fazio yanked back the forward, practically shoving the ref out of the way in order to do so. The whole wretched performance was delivered with all the surreptitiousness of a four year-old standing with hand in cookie jar and chocolate smeared all over their mouth, and for that this oak-tree of a man deserves nothing less than to have a limb hacked off with a rusty saw. It would not be stretching things to suggest that liberal quantities of salt be sprinkled across the bloody stump either.

But a red card? Dash it all, in order to be a ‘goalscoring opportunity’ the ball had to bypass two defenders, the striker had to gallop another ten yards and a nearby elephant had to jump through a flaming hoop. Admittedly, I suspect that if Phyllis had not been awarded our heroes would have found a way to concede anyway, but the nub of the thing is that there was a heck of a sequence of bits and bobs that needed crossing and dotting before the goalscoring chance actually materialised. And as such, the red card was even more cryptic than that slapped in Kyle Naughton’s face against West Ham on the opening day of the season.

Maxine

Easy to forget when you slink off 4-1 down at the culmination of things, but with 20 minutes to go an unlikely heist was on the verge of execution. Penalty to our lot, with a chance to reach parity, if you recall.

In truth Maxine was a devious mistress, because the foul appeared to occur a smidgeon or two outside the area. However, the ref by this stage was well into party mood, pointing to the spot with all the gay abandon of a champagne-quaffing reveller, and frankly it was nice to be remembered by him.

Poor old Soldado’s was not the worst penalty ever – it ticked some of the standard boxes one dreams up for this thing (on target; low; heading more or less for the corner;) – but thus do cookies crumble.

Elsewhere – Capoue & Mason

Aside from the penalties there were all manner of bells, whistles, character developments and sub-plots. And none of them seemed to involve Capoue, on whom I kept a particularly watchful eye today, just for sport. What purpose did the chap serve? He held his position religiously enough, bobbing around five yards in front of the comedy act known as our back-four, but seasons will change and empires rise and fall before the blighter ever makes an intervention of note.

By contrast, young Master Mason bounded around with all the enthusiasm of a young puppy released into the back garden for his daily jaunt. The brio will presumably fade and cynicism settle in (a la Dembele and Soldado, par example), but he did not waste an opportunity to burst a lung for the cause today, and could frequently be sighted trying to socialise with his elders in the attacking triumvirate. Not afraid to fly into a tackle either, his challenge creating our goal.

All told, the outcome was rather a blow to the solar plexus, but for over an hour our lot dug away, and a point looked possible. The drill against Top Four teams seems to be clear enough – keep things tight (through team shape, rather than dazzling defensive prowess from the individual personnel), and scamper forward via Eriksen, Chadli and Lamela at every opportunity. At times this front three looked razor-sharp, but the salient point this season is likely to be whether they can score more at one end than the assorted clowns concede at the other, week in and out.

Musings on Arsenal 1-1 Spurs

A quiet triumph for our glorious leader, this one. Coming on the back of the wretched Sunderland draw, and wretcheder West Brom defeat, the polite coughs around Pochettino had been increasing in volume all week, but credit to the man. The air around Finsbury Park presumably still resounds to the irate warbling of Wenger, who took a deep breath at the full-time whistle yesterday and has not stopped grumbling since, but this was a dashed hard-earned point for our lot.

This was not the time for coruscating interplay, merry quip and flashing badinage. This was not a time for Chiriches, and his Dali-esque take on the art of defending. Evidently not a fan of early 90s brat pack western Young Guns II: Blaze of Glory, Pochettino sagaciously eschewed the notion of our heroes getting shot to death one after another in the quest for bravura headlines, and instead stuck to the markedly less glamorous – but infinitely more sensible – project entitled ‘Work Your Cotton Socks Off, Stick to the Plan And Take Home A Point’.

Kaboul and Vertonghen had the right idea, neither toddling off more than six paces from the other, and all around them in lilywhite were faces etched with concentration. Rose and Naughton in particular can puff their chests today, for rarely have two young beans attracted such opprobrium over their careers as this pair from yours truly – but they jolly well filled the unforgiving minutes with distance run yesterday.

Lloris

The shiniest gold star however, without doubt goes to our trusty guardian of the net. Amidst all the hours of debate surrounding his frightfully modern role of sweeper ‘keeper, one sometimes forgets about young Lloris’ du pain et du beurre, but when push came to shove and the shots flew in yesterday he dashed well had every angle covered, beaten only by the elaborate full-body-wrap-around dummy thrown by the wretched Welbeck. Rather excitingly, one second half save even had the gods of goal-line technology awoken from their slumbers, which presumably had Jonathan Pearce’s brain melting out of his ears.

A Mild Regret

Not wanting to sound ungrateful about things, but given that throughout the entire game we only managed to touch the ball about seven times, it was mildly annoying that we made rather a pickle of two or three jolly presentable counter-attack opportunities, in the first half in particular. We did eventually get the final ball right – Lamela hitting the bullseye with his assist for Chadli – but one or two more of those in the first half and we might have had a two- or even three-goal lead to spurn. Ah well, live and learn, what?

A Glimpse of the Future

If our general game-plan was one of locking ourselves in a bunker and waiting for the ongoing alien invasion to pass overhead, the longer-term Pochettino approach was at least given a brief and stirring cameo when we took the lead. Much hot air has been expelled about the whole business of ‘pressing high up the pitch’, but with Adebayor ambling around with all the energy of doleful sloth this fabled approach has been as rare as a two-headed rabbit so far this season, so it was jolly heartening to see our heroes snaffle the ball just 30 yards from the opposition goal yesterday, and proceed to cross t’s and dot i’s until the net was rippling.

And to round things of, a round of applause to the unfeasibly young arbiter of proceedings, who did a cracking job of preventing a full-scale riot by cautioning Chadli for his irresponsible and over-the-top goal celebration. Goodness knows, the very fabric of society would have come crashing down around us if that fine bastion of the rulebook had not waved yellow in Chadli’s face. The relief in the corridors of power today has been palpable.

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

Spurs Holiday Musings – Liverpool Loss & Fond Farewells

AANP has just biffed off on holiday this last week (Malta, since you ask), and these sunny retreats to foreign climes would not be worthy of the name if they did not at some point involve tracking down an English-themed watering-hole to watch Spurs get thoroughly dismantled, to the mirth of the nearby pink-faced denizens.

Despite the uncontainable urge amongst some of particularly dramatic ilk to race to the nearest hasty conclusion and yelp “Crisis! False dawn! Just not good enough, dash it!” this strikes me as but a stumble along a fairly promising path. A jolly chastening stumble mind, complete with unceremonious landing and all the trimmings, but not yet the moment to be inciting unrest amongst the nearest angry mob.

Midfield Creativity: AWOL

Particularly infuriating was the fact that that smug lot beat us at our own game, blast them – harrying off the ball, counter-attacking in a blurry burst of heels and generally executing some slick, incisive stuff in the final third.

By contrast, Bentaleb and Capoue seemed resolute in their determination to avoid anything with the merest whiff of deep-lying creativity (which potentially gives the Brains Trust food for thought in The Great Capoue Vs Dembele Debate, given the Belgian’s uncontrollable urge to puff out a chest and trundle goalward). The dull hum of inactivity behind them meant quite the onus on Eriksen, Chadli and Lamela to run riot. Alas, the first two in particular seemed not to care for such frivolous duties, seemingly content instead to bask in the glory of the previous week’s efforts, and other than the occasional long ball hoicked over the top there was nary a sniff of goal all afternoon.

Adebayor showed a hint of spirit, as did Lamela in the second half, like a couple of puppies haring round after the ball, but for all their gusto there was precious little effect, and by and large ignominy was jolly well in her element and having an absolute whale of a time. This being Spurs such things happen, but the imperative for Pochettino and chums now is to ensure that this is most certifiably the exception rather than the rule.

Fond Farewells

And to round off a rather doleful few days we have now bid rather hasty farewells to a couple of the elder statesmen. Few could make a convincing case that Daws is still of top-rate Premiership quality (the highlights of his Hull debut appeared rather cruelly to corroborate this), but the blighter could not have been more committed to the lilywhite cause if he were hatched from a cockerel’s egg laid in the centre of the White Hart Lane turf. And by all accounts a thoroughly decent old bean too. Oh that a spot could have been found for him as a permanent mascot leading the players onto the pitch each week. Gone, but absolutely not forgotten, I suspect that it is not just at AANP Towers he will be welcome to a free bourbon any time he jolly well chooses.

Amidst the hullaballoo of it all, the bods at the top have sneakily shunted Sandro down the exit chute as well. Of quality and endearing commitment he had plenty, and the weekly axis of awesomeness that he formed alongside Dembele a couple of years back will live long in the memory, but the point has been made that the poor blighter was rarely in good health, so the rationale for selling him is understandable, if nevertheless regrettable.

Two long-serving troops is probably enough for one episode of this particular soap opera, but despite a few swirling murmurs Monsieur Kaboul remains in situ. Time is not in the habit of waiting for the good mortals of this sphere, but in Kaboul’s case Time seems to have legged it while the Frenchman’s back was turned and disappeared into the distance. No longer the colossus of two or three years back, the Liverpool game was the latest indication that the chap has lost several yards of pace, and is adding a distinct flavour of fallibility to proceedings at the back. Captain by default he may be, but he looks less and less the inspiring leader with every passing minute. One rather hopes that the new chap Fazio is fully-clad and limbered up, because his appears the next cab on the rank.

West Ham 2-0 Spurs: Two More Entries for the Comedy Catalogue

Credit to our heroes for their ingenuity. In a season in which sacrificial slaughters seem to have taken place on a monthly basis, as well as half a dozen transfer failures and an off-the-pitch approach to running a club that would leave a team of monkeys red-faced, it did not seem possible to reach a new low in a game against a West Ham team hated by their own and at a point in the season in which there was next to nothing at stake. This season however, our lot have exercised every ounce of creative licence to come up with new and fantastical means of generating car crashes from thin air. Admittedly it might have been a tad more productive for them to expend their energy on something a little more conducive to success, but baby steps, what?

Kaboul

It seemed a tad indulgent of Monsieur Kaboul to finish up his work for the season after half an hour of the penultimate game, the cheeky rascal, but his was a worthy entry nevertheless into the pantheon of Astonishingly Bad Ideas From Our Lot, 2013/14. Here at AANP Towers our hearts have burned with good honest man-love for Monsier Kaboul ever since he puffed out his chest and went bulldozing up the right flank vs Man City a few years back, to create the goal for Crouch that secured our CL status. Thus have excuses been made for him ever since, when he returned to action this season as part of the back-four that was torn to ribbons back at Man City, and apologetic shrugs were offered on his behalf when both feet became completely disengaged from reality and he resorted to a first minute back-heeled o.g. at Anfield.

Alas, the chap’s mishaps have drifted from occasional aberrations to his own unique brand of farce. Presumably these days when he moves from one room to another at Chateau Kaboul he trips over the carpet, careers into the dining table and sends crockery crashing everywhere. With his pace going, and well-timed interventions playing second fiddle to ill-timed lunges, he now seems to offer us precious little beyond a couple of startling eyebrows. ‘Tis with heavy heart that these sentiments are voiced, but his contract is up this summer in any case. Be gone, Kaboul, and take thine eyebrows with thee. In fact, take the entire defence with thee, apart from angry young Kyle Walker. Let’s just start from scratch at the back, because at the moment the whole dashed thing is making my eyes bleed.

Paulinho and Adebayor

However, the bar for scarcely believable lilywhite buffoonery was undoubtedly raised by the intrepid heroes Paulinho and Adebayor, in facing up to a single size 5 football as if it were a vigilante mob armed with numchucks, machetes and those awesome massive gun things that Vasquez wielded in Aliens. With that sort of commitment to the cause one would not fancy their chances in wrestling a ball of string from a heavily sedated kitten, let alone hauling us into the Top Four against the Premiership’s finest. Still, there is some comfort in the thought of the spittle-flecked apoplexy that presumably greeted them when Tim Sherwood sauntered by for the post-mortem.

Almost everywhere one looked on Saturday there was an excruciating limpness about all things lilywhite. Lennon, another whom AANP has resolutely defended year after year, seems to have become a parody of himself, trotting out those jazz-hands and that predictable shoulder-feint-and-dash-out-right routine in an entirely perfunctory manner. Kyle Naughton’s blandness has reached such levels that he is now entirely incapable of stirring any emotion in me whatsoever. Chiriches I imagine is a lad who understands not one word of the instructions he is fed, but nods blankly and then decides to play as the voices in his head dictate.

Excused from the debacle, as ever, were Eriksen and Lloris, but there is no getting away from the fact that this was yet another calamitous chapter in the tome of our 2013/14 season – a tome that will, rather incongruously, nevertheless be titled, “Heavens Above – Look How Many Points We Garnered! Huzzah!”

Spurs 3-1 Fulham: Lennon’s Left Foot & Other Marvels

So with the Top Four a fast-disappearing speck in the distance, the guillotine hovering over Tim and envious glances at Liverpool gently convincing the denizens of AANP Towers that a seventh-placed finish and quiet avoidance of Europa 2014-15 would probably do us the world of good, our heroes have decided to buck up their ideas and consolidate sixth. Thanks, heroes.

The Rarely-Seen Left Foot of Aaron Lennon

Still, Saturday will live long in the memory of all seasoned lilywhites, as for the first time since that winning goal vs Chelski circa ’05, there was a surprise guest appearance from Aaron Lennon’s left foot. Previously only employed for the purpose of enabling his unique strut, there it was in all its glory, sending in absolute peach of a cross for the forehead of young Master Kane. Oh that Lennon had pinged in such left-footed wizardry a little earlier and more regularly in his career, who knows what heights he might have scaled by now? But as it happens that cross on Saturday was a bit of a fluke.

Two More Strings To The Eriksen Bow

As ever, the magic ingredient in Saturday’s glory of glories was young Master Eriksen. Not necessarily in the sense of running rings around the Fulham mob, but the delivery of the free-kicks for Paulinho and Kaboul to do the necessaries was so downright vicious that it had me shielding the eyes of nearby impressionable infants. Even Paulinho, with his obsession for all things sideways and backwards, had little option but to apologetically tap the ball the requisite two forward inches required for doing the goal thing, so undefendable was the whipped cross from Eriksen.

And when Eriksen found himself the unwitting purveyor of a penalty for our visitors, he could be excused, not just for a season’s worth of gold dust in his boots, but because the penalty itself turned into an opportunity to add another million to Lloris’ summer transfer value.

(Insert Gag About the Lexical Flexibility of the Name ‘Kane’)

Three goals in three for young Kane, which must have Senor Soldado keeping his head down and dreaming of sunny Spain. Increasingly bearing the demeanour and gait of a man brought up on a diet solely of raw horsemeat – consumed without the assistance of either a knife or fork – Kane pleasingly demonstrated that his repertoire extends beyond lashing the ball with every ounce of energy from 20-plus yards, which I suppose counts as a step in the direction of becoming a more complete centre-forward. One would hardly suggest that in Kane and Adebayor we have a new Smith and Greaves, but each of them seem eminently capable of working opposing centre-backs into a healthy sweat over the course of 90 minutes.

So as this dismal mish-mash of a season stumbles to its conclusion there are at least a couple of straws clutched within the AANP fist. Lennon’s left foot is unlikely to be seen ever again in public, but where there is Eriksen there is hope, and with a little polish around the edges, and a steady stream of horsemeat, young Kane might prove an asset in next season’s Top Four push. A push that, on current form, is likely to be aided by the marvels of the Europa League, but such is life.

Chelsea 4-0 Spurs: Punch-Drunk Defending & Tactical Experiments

Poor old Tactics Tim has had a negative press at times, for papering over the nuances with buzzwords about passion and character and the like, but pre kick-off yesterday our glorious young leader emerged absolutely dripping in tactics. Nothing screams ‘I do tactics’ like sticking Walker in midfield and Lennon off the main striker, and by the time the first whistle blew we could barely move for the permutations. As things panned out, but for that ominous opening couple of minutes, things were fairly even in the first half, with everything very tight and compact and nairy a sniff of a half-chance. All of which is well and good, but it again leaves us wondering what the devil is the grand plan? As was the case under AVB, Sherwood seems to have a different idea every week, so as a result the personnel and formation changes each match and we start from scratch every time. In my idle moments of an evening I do occasionally ponder how our heroes would have fared this season if we had deployed the same XI (as far as injuries etc would allow) on a weekly basis.

The experiments involving Walker and Lennon made interesting viewing. Young Master Walker has long established himself as the Angriest Soul in North London, and his mood was hardly improved by the consequences of that bizarre backpass header, a moment which seemed to sum up the chap’s career as one of commitment and aggression laced with fairly frequent moments of mind-boggling mental negligence. Glossing over that particular error, the deployment of Walker in midfield was not a bad call. Hazard was indeed relatively well shackled, and there can be no doubting Walker’s body-strength, frequently showcased as an assortment of Chelski players simply bounced off him at various points. One suspects however that he will continue to be eyed askance by the White Hart Lane faithful as long as he keeps contributing to the opposition cause with those ‘special’ moments of his.

Lennon has previous in the hole, against these very same opponents if memory serves, Martin Jol having popped him there many moons ago. Alas, the blue mob were so well organised at the back that he barely had a sniff. Given his pace, and a willingness to amble forward that on occasion had him further advanced than Adebayor, it could in theory work – but the scattergun approach to formations amongst our lot may well mean that this particular experiment is shoved at the back of the cabinet and never seen again.

The Punch-Drunk Second Half

Back to the game, and what a dashed shame that the defence celebrated their first half shut-out by pouring themselves a few liberal half-time restorers and toasting one another non-stop for the duration of the interval. Those 15 minutes in the sanctity of the changing-rooms must have been an absolute riot – it is just a slight shame that as a consequence half the team wobbled out for the second half stinking of alcohol and barely able to tell one end of the pitch from the other. Thus did the bedlam ensue. Like teenagers let loose in Magaluf after their A-Levels, our lot began tripping over themselves and landing on their heads and forgetting which team they were playing for – heavens above there must have been some sore heads in the morning.

While we at AANP Towers are the last people to begrudge anyone an early-afternoon whiskey or two, it did seem quite a shame that having done all the hard work in the first half of keeping Hazard and Schurrle relatively quiet, they proceeded simply to present our hosts with goal after goal like that. In mitigation, one might suggest that the penalty and sending off put an end to the contest, and rather harshly so. However, while it seemed mighty rotten luck for Monsieur Kaboul to be chastised twice over simply for blowing his nose out of turn, or whatever the apparent misdeed was, he had got himself into a dubious position for carrying out the basics of his job in the first place.

Presumably few were expecting too much from this fixture in the first place, so there is little point in scratching this one until it bleeds. And yet, as if the circus act of a second half were not enough, we had Daws limping off, Kaboul facing a ban, Vertonghen looking suspiciously like he no longer cares, and a fixture list that is not about to ease up. It does rather hollow out one’s will to live, no?

Norwich 1-0 Spurs: Midfield Anonymity, Defensive Comedy & Soldado

Confusing I know, and I realise that if the attention wanders for a day or two one loses track completely, but just so everyone is clear – this week the dial is being flicked over to “CRISIS”.

Midfield

Not that that seemed to register with our heroes. Bless them, they had to play twice this week don’t you know, and chug through passport control and squat into their Easyjet seats and whatnot, so it was unsurprising that a few of them looked like they were just biding time until they received a leg massage. The central midfield mob looked anything but razor-sharp, with Paulinho ambling around like a passenger on the tube who sticks his earphones in, opens his Kindle and resolutely avoids eye-contact with anyone in the hope that the blasted journey might finish a bit faster if nobody notices him. Meanwhile Bentaleb did a pretty smart job of studiously avoiding any meaningful contribution – and as if by magic our heroes had reduced the contribution of three central midfielders to two, and at times just the one. A nifty piece of legerdemain, which can have observers rubbing their eyes and scratching their heads in bewilderment.

Defence

More entertainment was to be had behind them, as Messrs Rose, Dawson and Naughton tootled around like little wind-up cars that had been released across the carpet. ‘Twas a good day for all Dawson Bingo enthusiasts, as he over-committed and sold himself nice and early, made some of those heroic full-stretch blocks, won a few meaty headers and found time for a caution, all in all a fine advert for the centre-backery of Monsieur Kaboul. The sooner his latest malady is remedied the better for all mankind.

Attack

What on earth goes on in poor Soldado’s head is anyone’s guess, but the young wretch seems physically unable to score. Rather like the chap in the new Robocop film, his programming simply forbids him to do it, which is a dashed shame because as well as looking the dickens of a imbecile whenever he blasts the ball wide, had he taken the chance that was presented to him on a salver, with gleaming cutlery and a glass of vintage red, we would have been well set for all three points.

One might bemoan that wit and ingenuity were nowhere to be seen, but such protestation would be quibbled by the pedants amongst us, for there it was, huddled up on the subs bench watching life tick by. Maddening stuff, as our mob by and large just ambled through the motions, apart from the late, token attempt to batter their way through in the closing stages when Townsend came on to liven things up.

So the drill now is that the thumping of Newcastle is a thing of the past, and crisis time is upon us again because the Top Four are disappearing over the hills. Until next week presumably. Mean time we can all plunge our knives Sherwood-wards, and lament and howl and look longingly at the gap above us.

Newcastle 0-4 Spurs: Three Reasons to Rejoice

1. The Return of Kaboul

Slaughter a calf! Inflate a balloon! Find a young maiden and go down on bended knee! For, ye gods be praised, Kaboul is back, and in the team, chest puffed, pace increasing, eyebrows immaculately plucked. The return of Kaboul quite possibly makes me happier than winning four-nil away from home. Three points is three points, but Vertonghen-Kaboul is a foundation on which a whole bally world of awesomeness can be built.

Moreover, the purring of this particular axis has the most desirable consequence of leaving Young Master Daws consigned to the thumb-twiddling HQ that is the substitutes’ bench, a position from which even he is unable to inflict calamity upon proceedings by the delivery of an ill-timed lunge. When masterfully-timed lunges were required yesterday Monsieur Kaboul delivered. Not necessarily a flawless performance, as the back-four did occasionally resemble four slightly wonkily linked pieces of Meccano, but the gist of thing is to rejoice and be glad.

2. The All-Action Switch Is Flicked

Moving ever so slightly up the pitch, it was a cause of more delight that the lethargy of Sunday afternoon had been binned, and every outfield player was instead embarking on a personal drive to lay siege to the Newcastle goal. With Bentaleb a lot further forward than has ever been the case, both full-backs deciding that they would spend the evening doing work experience in the wingers’ office and even our trusty centre-backs (another bow if you will, Monsieur Kaboul) unable to resist the urge to charge at the home defence, the entire troupe looked like they were having an absolutely riotous time. Until Newcastle countered.

A better team may well have taken advantage of this whiff of naivety, but that is probably something to be brooded over another day. We tore into Newcastle with gusto – never more enjoyably so than in that late attack when the ball was rolled to the right of the area and literally four Spurs players converged upon it unopposed – and for this we should once again rejoice and be glad.

3. Our Lot: Big Lads

As a wide-eyed, gullible and slightly annoying youth, AANP occasionally took time out from recorder concerts  and spelling-tests to listen to his elders curse and bemoan the fact that for all their silky flair our heroes rather lacked a steely underbelly. Looking at the line of body-builders and tree-trunks that trotted out for the handshakes yesterday it seems reasonable to opine that those days are receding into the annals. Kaboul, Walker, Capoue, Dembele, Paulinho, Bentaleb and Adebayor are the sort of solid units one would not particularly enjoy trying to slyly shoulder-charge into the advertising hoardings, which, if nothing else, ought to make young Aaron Lennon feel well looked after.

From faintly ridiculous to borderline sublime in the space of three days, we now find ourselves not only three points off the CL spots, but seven points off the summit. Heavens above.

Sunderland-Spurs Preview: The Daws-Out-Defoe-In Campaign

It seems you can’t sneeze these days without another Spurs fixture hurtling towards you. This presumably gives Messrs Levy, Baldini and Villas-Boas a degree of smug satisfaction, because even if the XI on the pitch each game can do no more than trundle the ball sideways and backwards, on paper at least we do have a squad eminently capable of coping with two games per week.

Daws Out, Defoe In

That said, there appears to be minimal rhyme or reason to AVB’s tinkering – Lamela starting vs City and not in the squad vs United, Defoe ‘rested’ against Tromso and not selected vs United to name but two. Still, like my four year-old nephew with a new box of Lego, this gives the young bean something different with which to play each week, so good luck to him. However, if I may be so bold as to make a suggestion from the comfort of my sofa, and with the benefit of zero professional experience behind me, it would be to relegate Master Daws to his rightful position in the club shop, where he can perch on a ledge and revel in the glory of being club mascot, without ever having to worry about his lack of pace and turning-speed of a cruise-liner. Monsieur Kaboul may not exactly have covered himself in glory during the Etihad mauling, but he jolly well did cover himself in glory during the 2011-12 season, and it is difficult to imagine him doing any worse than the ill-judged, mistimed, lumberings of our esteemed captain.

In fact, while I have the floor I might as well take an almighty liberty and make a second suggestion, namely that the name ‘Defoe’ be scrawled in crayon across the teamsheet for the next three or four games. Just for sport you see, to see if he can do more in three or four games than Soldad’oh has done all season. I admittedly do wear Defoe-tinted spectacles most of my days, but it nevertheless struck me that he was more of a nuisance in his 90 minutes vs Sunderland than the Spaniard has been in the last month or two. And many is the claim that Defoe does not pass enough, but I spotted a couple of decent enough contributions vs Fulham (notably the one to set up Paulinho’s chance) – but more than that, I would rather a greedy blighter who troubles the ‘keeper a couple of times per game than a moody chunterer who registers nary a shot in anger.

Other Selection Bits and Bobs

Heaven help us, Vertonghen is out. This may mean Naughton thrust into that particular corner, but the preferable alternative at AANP Towers would be the discreet plopping into gainful employment of Kaboul. Dembele is a doubt as well apparently, a mild shame after his sterling performance against United, but we seem relatively well stocked in central areas, with Capoue back and Paulinho now apparently destined for a long and prosperous life in the hole.

Lovely though it has been to see four (four!) goals that were not penalties in the last seven days, none of them owed much to the fluidity and cunning of our build-up play, each of them having composed primarily of hearty thwacks from distance, so a problem still needs to be solved. Alas, Sunderland are stumbling through a pseudo-revival under Poyet, but the bottom team they remain, so this really has to be another three-point haul.

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