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Spurs match reports

Spurs 2-0 Everton: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. Bissouma, and Conte’s Tactical Switch

My Spurs-supporting chum Dave displayed quite the knack for trenchant observation when he summed up our first half as, “A lot of huff and puff.” I’m not sure too much expansion is required there. It made a pleasant change, I suppose, to see our lot start like they meant it and have the lion’s share of possession. And all of them were red of face and positively dripping with willing; but come half-time “huff” and “puff” were about the sum of it.

And I daresay that if left unchecked this rather dull routine, of poking at the Everton penalty area and promptly being repelled, might have gone on all night, but for the intervention of the gods, of all things. The gods of calf injuries, specifically, which was pretty rotten luck on poor old Richarlison, who had clattered around the place in his usual meaty style.  

But off he tottered, and at this point the plot took quite the unexpected turn. Being a simple soul, my immediate reaction on seeing Richarlison exit was to assume that one of Gil or Lucas would be thrust on in his place, to continue with the aforementioned r.d. routine. I mean to say, if one has a contraption, a small part of which snaps off, what could make more sense than to replace it with another identical part?

The Brains Trust, however, were evidently struck with alternative modes of thought, and on gambolled Bissouma, sprightly as you like. At which point, I furrowed the brow and narrowed the eyes, like nobody’s business. A defensive-minded nib for an attack-minded nib did not strike me as the sort of moment of inspiration for which The Big Cheese earns his bulging monthly envelope.

Of course you don’t need me to tell you that far from diminishing our front-foot potency, this rearranging of the pieces proved a tactical masterstroke, swinging the entire affair in our favour. What we lost in a third attacker we more than made up for in just about everyone else on the pitch beetling north at least ten yards, and where once Everton were casually enough knocking back everything we’d sent in their direction, they now flailed a fair bit with more than just a hint of skin-of-the-teeth about their defending.

Most obviously, Bentancur and Hojbjerg were able to pop up in vastly more advanced spots, safe in the knowledge that Bissouma was manning the rear. As if to hammer home this fact, the pair of them combined for our second, in what struck me as possibly the first time since they started playing together that they had both oiled into the final third at the same time.

Similarly, I can barely remember a time since the better days of Dele Alli that we had been graced with the presence of a bona fide midfielder arriving in the penalty area to see what it was all about – and yet there was Hojbjerg, most advanced of the lot, to put the game to bed.

One would need to get into the realm of parallel universes and whatnot to be absolutely sure, but it seems a reasonable bet that neither Bentancur’s little foray down the right nor Hojbjerg’s guest appearance in the area would have come to pass were it not for the fact that Bissouma was on the pitch and sticking to his defensive drill.

Bissouma himself was neat and tidy in what he did – a couple of busy snaffles here and there certainly won over the punters – but it was not so much what he did on the ball that won the day as simply being in existence. That is to say, by simply being on the pitch and in the right area, he got the rest of the machinery clicking.

Now this being the case, I was inclined to hoist Senor Conte up on my shoulders and carry him all the way home, slinging a garland around his neck for good measure. After all, and as mentioned, the Bissouma-for-Richarlison gambit had been a long way down the AANP list of options circa. minute 50, so I was mightily impressed by the chap’s lateral thinking.

And yet when I put to various fellow lilywhites this sentiment of gushing praise for Conte, they have generally greeted me with that funny look I so often get, the visual equivalent of a pat on the head for being innocent and rather simple. Because apparently, to everyone else in N17, the injection of Bissouma had been the most obvious thing in the world! Apparently nobody else even considered the use of Lucas or Gil, on account of their respectively being unfit and waif-like. So, what had struck me as a moment of tactical genius was actually pretty standard fare to the rest of you blighters, but there we go I suppose.

2. Everton Illustrate The Flaws of Conte-Ball

A digression at this point, for I noted in various post-match interviews that assorted members of the Everton mob were glumly pointing out that they felt they should have won. Had they taken either or both of those first half chances, went the gist, they would have fancied their chances.

Now, one sees the logic here, and the hypothetical is a reasonable one – had they been one or two goals up at half-time, there was little from the first half to suggest that we would have come back.

The issue here is that this argument required firstly that they took either of their only two chances – which they didn’t – and secondly that they avoided any defensive mistakes – which they didn’t. They missed both their chances, and Pickford then made a mess of a couple of things for the penalty.

I bring up all this because the Everton approach seemed to the AANP eye to have much about it of the style Conte has had us peddling in pretty much every game so far this season. And while it has worked for us, Everton yesterday illustrated quite how difficult it is to execute properly. It required all chances to be taken in attack, and no mistakes to be made in defence.

By contrast, in the post-Bissouma era yesterday we apparently had something like 8 shots in the 10 minutes immediately after the substitution – which rather relieves the pressure on the forwards. With that approach, one does not need to bury the head in the hands and bawl in frustration at a missed chance, because another one will be along soon enough.

The approach adopted yesterday, of playing higher up the pitch and fashioning numerous chances, seems vastly preferable to the usual Conte way, both to watch and in terms of the odds of actually winning games.

3. Bentancur

I touched earlier upon the positive impact of Bissouma upon the geographic inclinations of Bentancur, but it would be a disservice to the latter to suggest that his good deeds were due solely to the introduction of the former.

Far from it. Bentancur struck me as the standout performer throughout, beavering away aross all blades of turf like nobody’s business and silkily linking things together like it were the most natural thing in the world. The fellow’s passing is neat and tidy when aiding and abetting the defensive mob; but rather more inventive and exciting when given licence to shove on a bit, and both elements were on display yesterday.

Nor is he the sort who’ll quietly slink into the shadows when more robust duties are required. He can consider himself pretty hard done by to have been cautioned, for his tackling was generally in the ‘Firm But Fair’ category throughout, and that yellow card ought not to suggest otherwise.

All of which made it rather appropriate that he was the driving force behind our second goal. His little legs having wheeled away non-stop all game, one understood Harry Kane popping the ball up the flank and simply looking at him expectantly. Where others might have flung skywards an irritated hand or two, Bentancur scuttled after it in precisely the manner he’d scuttled after everything throughout the game. On top of which, he then had the presence of mind to look beyond the more straightforward pass to Sonny, and instead picked out Hojbjerg in an infinitely better position.

4. Doherty

It is perhaps a little mean-spirited, but with Emerson Royal’s domestic suspension still ongoing I found myself absolutely pleading with Matt Doherty to put in a bravura performance that might consign to the annals – or at least to first reserve – the willing but lamentably limited Brazilian.

The first half showing threatened to disappoint. It was not that Doherty was particularly bad, but rather that nobody in lilywhite found their groove. Everton had plenty of numbers back in defence, and whereas Perisic on the other side could resort to crossing with either foot, Doherty’s attacking game comprises one-twos and nifty darts – precisely the sort of fare that Everton’s massed ranks were able to stifle.

However, as with various others, Doherty was able to disengage a shackle or two once Bissouma arrived. Seemingly gripped by a greater spirit of adventure, he made the sort of forward bursts that Emerson will also make; but, crucially, seemed to have a vastly superior grasp of his options once there.

And various elements of his repertoire were duly exhibited. We were treated to runs towards the byline, outside the area; runs infield, to facilitate nifty diagonal passes; and even a couple of shots from inside the area – one of which led to the penalty.

Of course, it might be that Conte issues a very specific set of instructions – positional, distributional or along some other metric – that Emerson follows to the letter and Doherty cannot nail for love nor money. As a layman, however, I struggle to see how anyone of sound mind and pure intention would resort to Emerson over Doherty again, after seeing yesterday’s performance and comparing it to the countless maddening displays by the Brazilian.

5. Kane

As ever, it is easy to take for granted that rotter Harry Kane, particularly when his goals are of the scruffy ilk (or penalties – which even then does him a disservice, because despite the midweek miss I don’t think I’ve seen a better penalty-taker in all my puff). But when Kane hits something like his top form he becomes quite the specimen, and at the moment he appears to be doing precisely that.

His most recent goals may indeed have been three penalties and one off the shoulder, but there were moments yesterday that prompted a knowing grin to spread across the AANP map, for the evidence points to a fellow who is reaching the peak of his powers and is fully aware of it. In particular, his volley of a ball that dropped across his body and from the heavens, was a thing of some wonder, being the sort of technique that would have resulted in mere mortals shanking the thing off towards the corner flag, and quite possibly have splaying a limb or two about the place.

There was also a spin-and-shot in the second half, which deserved better than arrowing straight down the gullet of the goalkeeper, but which again served notice of the chap’s current sharpness.

For all his talents, I am struck just about every game by how bad his control is (witness his first touch in the build-up to our second, when the ball bounced off his frame as if hitting a wooden door), and at times this has extended to rather ungainly, bobbling attempts to dribble that probably seem a terrific idea in his head but manifest as clumsy stumbles into traffic. Both yesterday and midweek, however, Kane even seemed to hit upon the art of close-control dribbling, beating one man and nutmgegging another before popping off a shot yesterday, to add to his run past four defenders that earned a penalty on Wednesday.

All of which glosses over the fine creative work he does when he drops deeper. As mentioned, his initial touch in the build-up to our second goal yesterday was clunky in the extreme, but once he had the dashed thing under control his creative juices were up and away, feeding Bentancur with just the right weight, into space rather than into feet and in the process doing much to ease the nerves of those final few minutes.

While the first half was something of a struggle, the combination of incisive attacks and controlled possession made for vastly more enjoyable viewing in the second, and added to the promise of the midweek Frankfurt game, it all has a bit of excited chatter about AANP Towers that perhaps, finally, our lot might just have started to click.

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Brighton 0-1 Spurs: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. The Midfield

The white-hot news ahead of kick-off was that our Glorious Leader had donned his lesser-worn 3-5-2 boots. I suspect AANP was not alone in reacting to this firstly by rubbing the eyes and administering to self a solid pinch, to ensure that reality was in full working order; before rubbing the hands with glee and informing anyone who would listen that great things were no doubt imminent.

That said, anyone who considers that Senor Conte simply bowed to the masses and accepted that we, the Spurs-supporting public, knew better than him all along, probably needs a few truths explained to them.

A large driver of the formation change was apparently the sudden dearth of attacking options. This tallies. With Kulusevski and Lucas still having limbs reattached, and only Bryan Gil representing an attacking option from the bench, one understood the sentiment of resting one of the usual front-three in the midst of the mini fixture pile-up.

(And a propos young Gil, the decision to trade in Lamela plus several bags of cash for the undercooked waif looks barmier by the minute. One does not doubt his willing nor his touch, but Gil’s physique remains that of a malnourished Dickensian orphan. Lamela may have had as many flaws as attributes, depending upon whom you ask, but he’d have been a handy reserve for games such as Brighton or Frankfurt away – more so than young Gil at any rate.)

I digress. One of the joys of 3-5-2 was that Messrs Bentancur and Hojbjerg both appeared infinitely happier in their refurbished surroundings. And understandably enough, for which amongst wouldn’t let rip a sigh of relief, kick back and enjoy oneself when informed that a helping pair of hands was imminent in a role that had previously been understaffed for months?

Bentancur appeared the most advanced of the supporting cast. The usual silky touch was evident, on top of which, and in common with his chums, he was very much on board with the whole ‘High Press’ chorus-line. For half an hour or so, it seemed he as an individual and we as a collective had struck oil.

That said, even during that halcyon first half hour, a gnawing sentiment still irked me that Bentancur could have made rather more of his many talents. The half an eye I’ve kept on Woolwich in recent weeks has prompted me to wonder if Bentancur ought not to be matching and indeed bettering the role of Odegard for that lot – high up the pitch, seeing all angles at once, zipping early passes into tight spaces. Rather than being string-puller-in-chief, Bentancur seemed happy simply to let himself bob along on too many occasions, even when afforded the luxury of protection behind him on Saturday.

That protection took the sinewy form of Master Bissouma. As with the rest of them, for half an hour he seemed pretty much in control of matters. Having been stationed slightly south of Messrs B and H, Bissouma seemed happy to let the others tiptoe forward while he manned the rear, doing without fanfare all that menial guff that allows the machinery to hum and whir.

As well as allowing Bentancur to move to a new address ten yards up the pitch, this also seemed to inspire Hojbjerg to shrug his shoulders and dominate everything he got involved in. On various occasions the chap would win the ball, chug forward with it ten yards and then pop it off for Sessegnon or whomever to begin the next chapter. I’m not sure I remember seeing Hojbjerg go about his business with such a confident and effective strut.

And as mentioned, for the first thirty or so, things seemed fairly serene. Brighton may have occasionally triangled their way past our high press, but by and large they didn’t do much with it. Whereas our lot time and again seemed to pick their pockets within swinging distance of their goal, and, egads, even dominated possession. After a relentless stream of games in which the rope-a-dope tactic has been deployed, I could scarcely believe what was unfolding – and yet there it was, our lot hogging the ball and playing on the front-foot.

It couldn’t last of course. Brighton ended the first half more strongly, and in the second upped their possession. Ultimately, however, despite ceding possession, the story ended happily enough, as our hosts caused us problems without really causing us problems if you follow my gist – having a bit too much possession for anyone’s liking, but not actually fashioning a clear chance, thanks to the impressive shifts put in by all amongst our rear.

2. Sessegnon

One of those shifting impressively was young Master Sessegnon. However, while he put his head down and racked up more ticks than crosses, I must admitting thinking it was a bit thick to shove the Outstanding Chappie Award down his gullet once the curtain had come down.

No doubt mine is an opinion tainted with prejudice and deep suspicion at the fellow’s hit-and-miss history in lilywhite. And it is true that he took several opportunities to gallop off into the final third, in the first half in particular, and did that which precious few others amongst our number seem capable – viz. launching a half-decent cross into the general vicinity of the area.

Here, I suppose, is where I start to pause, and raise a quibbling finger. For while it is true that he slung in more crosses than probably anyone else, a pedant might argue that he could have directed them a little better. Where one would ideally like to see crosses whipped in front of the onrushing throngs, Sessegnon seemed to pop them just behind the danger area, or over it, or in some other way slightly miss the sweet spot.

Harsh criticism this may be, but better crosses would have led to better chances. Nevertheless, after some of the rot to which we’ve been subjected from the flanks in recent times (and I charitably name no names here), the sight of Sessegnon first charging up the wing and then slinging in a few crosses once he’d got there, was a welcome one.

On top of which, his defensive shakes steadily improved. In the first half he seemed a little too often to allow himself to be tossed around in the spirit of a ragdoll. By the time the second half oiled round much seemed to have changed, and for the better. If a Brighton sort gave him an upper-body barge of muscle and substance, Sessegnon of the second half seemed ready for it, and inclined to respond in kind. If beaten along the ground, Sessegnon was not about to give up the cause, but retook his position and plugged away.

So this was undoubtedly one of his better displays. I dare not take that from the honest fellow. I simply raise a pretty surprised eyebrow at the notion that his was the standout display amongst our mob – partly because I thought Hojbjerg did better, and partly because, harsh and unforgiving soul that I am, I expect more dangerous deliveries from my wing-backs.

3. Doherty

As exciting as the switch to 3-5-2 was the news that Matt Doherty was being dusted off and paraded for the day. The whole drama around the chap’s inclusion or otherwise, as pieced together by snippets from Conte press conferences, has in all honesty made the AANP head throb a bit – but for whatever reason there he was on Saturday, gormless expression in place and the right touchline waving invitingly at him.

And, again in common with his ten chums, for half an hour he made a decent fist of things. Now admittedly, if he were Emerson Royal, at about this juncture I’d hurl a rotten fruit or two, because Doherty’s contribution seemed to go swimmingly until it came to execution of his final contribution. And at that point, be it a pass, cross or shot, the stars did not quite align, and things fizzled out a tad.

Nor did Doherty even attempt a cross of the sort that Sessegnon was gaily swinging in from the other side. But nevertheless, I was heartened by what I saw. The system required wing-backs comfortable motoring forward, and Doherty seemed that. He might not have produced any crosses worthy of the name, but he mooched further infield as is his wont, popped a shot or two and offered an attacking threat on the right.

As with everyone else, his attacking juices ran rather dry after the break, and I’m not sure I remember him hitting the final third, which was a shame. He did however keep his defensive buttons switched on throughout, and as the instruction to repel the other lot at all costs became ever louder, he popped up with some notable blocks and tackles.

Whether any of the above is enough to convince Conte that the right wing-back pecking order deserves a reshuffle is debatable, but for a johnnie who hasn’t kicked a competitive ball in several months I thought his was a solid combination of forward willing and defensive solidity.

4. Sonny

The obsession in the last decade or so with assists seems to me a rummy one. One understands the principle, of course, but reducing an attacker’s input to goals and assists always seems wilfully to ignore much of what makes such folk tick.

Sonny, for example, could be said to have contributed the assist to the game’s only goal, and therefore to have pretty much swung the thing in our favour. Preeminent Contribution of the Match, and all that guff.

And good for him, it should be said. His delivery created the only goal, so we are in his debt, no doubt. Someone needed to do it – he alone did it. So far, so good.

One might quibble that his delivery was almost certainly a shot, rather than a cross, and the argument is a strong one. Nevertheless, shoot from that sort of angle, and with that sort of power, and one rather earns any luck going, in the line of own-goals or Kane shoulders or whatever else. On top of which, there was some nifty footwork immediately preceding this delivery, which had the Brighton fellow floundering and waggling useless limbs. So, again, bravo Sonny.

However, something remains not quite right at Chateau Heung-Min. Personally my heart sinks every time I see a ball from defence or midfield played into the feet of Sonny facing his own goal. When the lad drops deep to collect the ball, the outcome seems almost always to be that we lose possession.

For a start, Son is anatomically composed purely of skin and bone, with not an ounce of muscle on him, meaning that a defender needs only to breathe on his neck for him to go sprawling. As such, any attempt to feed the ball into him, in the hope that he will collect and shield it before laying it off, is doomed to failure and a crumpled heap of limbs.

On top of which his touch has deserted him somewhat this season. Even if he stays upright when collecting these passes, the ball seems simply to bounce off and away from him.

The chap is far better when pointing towards the opposition goal, somewhere in the vicinity of the shoulder of the last defender. Feed him the ball there, or play it into space to run into, and he seems several notches more dangerous – witness his disallowed goal. Admittedly he is still malfunctioning a little too regularly at present (witness that moment in the second half when he tried an over-elaborate solo rather than feeding Kane), but in general he seems to cause more problems to the opposition, and pose less risk to teammates, when up at the apex rather than dropping deep to collect.

But ultimately, we were treated to three hard-earned points. Admittedly the sentiment throughout this volume has much about it of a spoilt child who simply wants more, rather than being satisfied with what he has. Frankly, a win away to an in-form Brighton, and on the back of last week (on and off the pitch), was the stuff of which I had dared not dream. To have achieved it in the manner we did – all grit and steel and whatnot – was even more impressive, and is precisely the sort of stuff of which successful seasons are made. The wait for a thoroughly convincing performance goes on, but all things considered – not least the desperately sad circumstances – this might have been our best display of the season to date.

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Spurs 6-2 Leicester: Four Tottenham Talking Points

While decency would normally dictate that I apologise for tardiness, between Vegas, Denver and some unspecified spot over the Atlantic, AANP can barely remember its own name, let alone the date and time.

1. Defensive Rotation

Discovering that the rarely-heard Drury was on comms for the screening of this match in Vegas was quite the pre-match mood-enhancer and morning-after pick-me-up; but alas, the good news ended there as a quick scan of the cast members indicated a Romero-shaped hole, awkwardly occupied by the various uncontrollable limbs of Davinson Sanchez.

Of course, being a man of chivalry and values, I let Sanchez proceed with perfect objectivity, and he duly took about two minutes to confirm, to what I now understand to be a global audience, that he is, in fact, a chump of the highest order. Everything about his diving, sliding, obvious and unnecessary foul was utterly clot-headed, and nor is it the first time he’s produced such mind-boggling idiocy at the earliest possible juncture (that time we hammered Man Utd away springs to mind, Sanchez similarly gifting away a penalty in the opening exchanges).

One understands that the fixture schedule requires a spot of management of the more important dramatis personae, what with World Cups, Champions Leagues, Carabao Cups and bread-and-butter League games every three days from now until around 2038. And if an A-lister like Romero can’t be allowed to put the feet up and catch the breath in a home fixture against the bottom team, then one might reasonably ask when the devil can he?

And all of this makes perfect sense, until one throws Sanchez into the equation, as first back-up. Now his legions of fans will no doubt point to the fact that prior to Saturday night we hadn’t conceded in an absolute age with him on sentry duty. On top of which, aside from the ridiculous early penalty he actually carried out his tasks dutifully enough – but that’s not really the point is it? What good is a defender trotting around doing the basics if he’s already stuffed up and given away a goal for nothing in the opening exchanges?

The debate will presumably loop around pointlessly until he is eventually sold, so best just accept it for now. Such was our lack of control that Conte saw fit to hook the blighter and interrupt Romero’s night off, calling upon him to keep the door bolted for the final twenty or so.

On the other side of defence, Lenglet oiled around reasonably enough in lieu of the indisposed Davies, with a straightforward interception here and a (usually, though not universally) accurate forward pass there. He might not sweep the board at the awards ceremonies for outstanding individual contributions come May, but he ticks enough boxes to give us two solid left-sided options.

The spots that furrow the brow are the other centre-back positions. Sanchez and Tanganga do not really instil confidence, even when flanked by more competent souls. Worse, opponents are exchanging knowing looks and beginning to target Sanchez. Somehow, we must muddle through.

2. Wing-Backs

However, if the centre-back rotation gambit was fraught with risk, the latest wing-back experiment had about it an air that was bonny, bright and gay.

A few muted voices had half-heartedly wondered aloud in recent weeks, on the back of Emerson’s obvious limitations, whether Perisic might be deployed on the right, but I’m not sure anyone really believed it would actually happen. And yet there it was, in glorious technicolour, from the off.

And it worked pretty well, at least going forward. Perisic was as game as ever going forward, his compass evidently still in full working order despite the switch from West to East. The restored Kulusevski marked his return to the fold by haring off down the right at every opportunity, and taking the full-back with him, while young Sessegnon was not about to miss out on the fun, signalling his intentions with a few early crosses from the left.

This was all well and good, but a fairly crucial component of its success was that we were in possession. And as time continued its irresistible march, and we rather surrendered the initiative (more on that below), the defensive frailties of our wing-backs rather awkwardly rose to prominence.

Not that I blame Perisic. Here is a man who made his name on the front-foot, and if he’s anything like AANP he has untold lung capacity for the forward charge, but needs a bit of a blow when it comes to the defensive side of things. As with Sporting in midweek, so against Leicester on Saturday, he seemed to be beaten a little too easily in the mano a mano items, and with Sanchez behind him the brow began to furrow with a decent amount of nervousness.

Similarly, Sessegnon gave a full display of his fallibilities, not for the first time being fairly straightforwardly beaten in the air in the build-up to the second goal, in a manner that suggested he offers decorative value only when it comes to aerial combat.

So for all the early promise and excitement of Perisic-right and Sessegnon-left, Conte then switched the pair, and ultimately resorted to Emerson, presumably in the name of tightening the locks a smidge.

The whole sequence did again make me wonder what the hell Matt Doherty has to do these days to get a game, while Djed Spence may also be stroking a thoughtful chin, but the Perisic-Sess experiment, while showing a few rays of promise, was not quite the unmitigated success for which I’d hoped.

3. Central Midfield

In those early exchanges our lot seemed mercifully undeterred by the early deficit, and I thought were fairly good value for the 2-1 first half lead, at least in possession. Alas, as the pattern evolved to that rot about sitting deep and looking to counter, Leicester began to get to grips with life – which really is utter muck if you think about it. This lot were bottom, conceding goals for fun – and yet there they were, controlling possession for five-minute chunks, in our own back yard!

Well, you can imagine the harrumphing emanating from this corner of Vegas, and the dashed thing is this is hardly the first time we’ve seen our midfield lose control of things. I don’t really blame either of Messrs Bentancur or Hojbjerg, as the problem seems to be quantity rather than quality. Any team with three in midfield simply has more available legs in the area.

The point of the 3-4-3 seems to be to ensure that we have plenty of men manning the back-door at any given point, but even within this packed environment Leicester did not have to break too much sweat to bop their way around us.

Helpfully, Leicester were simply not very good, so while we let them offer far more threat than decency ought to allow a team at the bottom of the table, there was rarely a point at which I felt we would not outscore them. However, any semblance of control of the dashed thing only really emerged once Bissouma was introduced and we switched to a three-man midfield.

Conte has made Bissouma kick his heels a tad, for reasons of fitness or tactical education or some such rot apparently, but the fellow was on the button once introduced on Saturday, happy to treat the masses to his fabled array of interceptions and tackles.

Various pundits will hone in on a chap who scores and mark them out as a standout performer, irrespective of anything else contributed or lacking during the course of the 90, and I’m a tad wary of doing the same with young Master Bentancur. His goal was certainly a triumph for high pressing and general alertness, and I’m pretty sure he contributed crucially to one of Sonny’s goals through another sprightly tackle. All told, however, he seemed to me to swan through life in his usual neat, tidy and effective way.

The challenge he faces each week is, as mentioned above, that that central midfield pair is too often outnumbered. All of which does make one wonder whether there might be scope for Bissouma to be added more permanently, and a switch to 5-3-2 to be effected (I’ve heard it mentioned that Kulusevski could occupy the right wing-back slot for such a move).  Such jiggery-pokery might also allow Bentancur to shove forward ten yards or so, and allow the creative juices to flow a little more freely. The Brains Trust, no doubt, have all options under consideration.

4. Sonny

Only right to give the chap a mention I suppose. Personally I’d have preferred him to make less of a song and dance about it all – stiff upper lip and all that – but a man has his feelings I suppose, and the whole business of getting dropped and then scoring from all angles would presumably have been a lot to digest in one afternoon.

Aside from the drama that surrounded the honest fellow, I was most taken by the gumption he displayed in striking the shot for his first goal. By the time of his third the narrative was well established – Leicester were falling to pieces, and Sonny’s redemption arc was well into its third act.

But when he collected the ball and set off towards goal at 3-2, he was still a man who had been dropped, was without a goal, hadn’t smiled since May and appeared to have forgotten which foot was which. Given this context, for him then to bend one from approximately a mile out, and shape it from outside the post to within, with whip and height and all sorts, was remarkable stuff indeed.

His confidence having been at a low ebb, one would have bottled up a sigh and forgiven him for shuffling off with the ball towards some cul-de-sac near the corner flag. And had he swiped at the ball and got his geometrics wrong, the groans would have been audible down the High Road. To eject himself from his rut, and in such fashion as that first goal, was a triumph. (As was the sweet, sweet strike for his second, while we’re on the topic.)

I suppose one might glance at the scoreline and label this a triumph for defensive rotation, but given that Hugo had to make three or four pretty spectacular leaps about the place this felt anything but comfortable until the final fifteen or so. It’s a remarkable thing to engineer an unconvincing 6-2 win, but there we are. I must confess to looking ahead to the game away to Woolwich with a fair amount of dread, given the way our lot have struggled to exercise control over any opponent so far this season. As such I might quietly start a campaign for a three-man midfield, in the hope that it grows into quite the din by 1 October. For now, however, despite being oddly off the boil, we remain comfortably ensconced in the top four.

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West Ham 1-1 Spurs: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. The First Half: Actually Not Too Bad

Obviously when sifting through the wreckage, shaking the head sadly and tutting knowingly, it seems almost inappropriate to reflect that in the first half things had actually been pootling along fairly comfortably. And yet, when the curtain came down at the halfway stage the mood at AANP Towers was that this was probably the best we’d looked since Day 1. A low bar, admittedly, but still.

For a start, whereas at Forest on Sunday the entire concept of a midfield was ignored and everyone involved just slapped the ball up to the front three at the earliest opportunity, in the first half last night our lot pinged the thing through the pitch in neat, little diagonals. From defence the ball would roll along to Hojbjerg or Kane dropping deep; and from there be worked in another neat little diagonal to Kulusevski or Sonny or Perisic; and the net result was that we regularly worked our way from back to front in bright and breezy fashion. Although none of this was remotely Brazil 1970, our opponents seemed to have their minds blown by it, simply standing around gawping as our heroes slid passes around them at half pace.  

The biggest early impediment to all this was that blasted VAR delay, after which our lot rather dozed off and the other lot remembered their obligations. Even so, by half-time it did feel like anything less than victory would represent a pretty major faux pax on our part.

In particular I was rather taken by the way that rotter Harry Kane made use of the wide, open spaces nearer halfway, West Ham seemingly oblivious to the trouble he can cause from such positions and he accordingly picking forward passes hither and thither.

Perisic was another who caught the AANP eye, ever willing to explore the lane ahead of him and ever able to deliver a decent cross. Indeed, the winnings from Perisic’s recent crosses have been considerable – the VAR incident here, the penalty against Forest on Sunday, the late equaliser against Chelsea (from a corner admittedly) and a near-miss header from Kane against Wolves.

On top of which, the fellow is as wily as they come, well-versed in the murky arts that facilitate the shielding of the ball and winning of free-kicks and whatnot. Not since Edgar Davids have we been blessed with one of these more experienced eggs, who manages to deliver the goods with little more than a knowing wink and spot of upper-body muscle.

2. Our Goal

I alluded earlier to the crispness of some of our first half interplay from defence onwards, and rarely was this better exemplified than in our goal, a move of such slickness it looked like they’d been rehearsing it for weeks.

In the first place it came about when the defensive siren was being sounded, with the other lot on the attack and attempting to tiptoe their way into our area. At this juncture Eric Dier made a couple of his better life-choices, firstly in stepping forward from the defensive line to intercept an opposing forward pass. This having been done he then rattled through the options, and rather than belting the ball to within an inch of its life, slid the thing about ten yards north to the waiting Kane.

As mentioned, despite having turned into an art-form the practice of dropping deep, and having given fair warning of his ability in this sector for a good three or four years now, West Ham seemed utterly oblivious to the threat posed by Harry Kane in such situations. There were few complaints from AANP Towers. Kane collected the ball ten yards outside his own area, toddled along with it another ten yards and then biffed it out to Kulusevski, in about the time it takes to murmur, “Defence into attack”.


One of the marvellous things about Kulusevski is that he is the sort of bean who’s happy to run first and think later, seemingly living by the maxim that life will present a solution further down the line. Having collected the pass from Kane around the halfway line he injected a little more urgency into the move, flicking the dial from “Saunter” to “Gallop”, which in turn was a signal for Kane and Sonny to rev up and pick their supportive spots. Kane went outside, Sonny inside, and by the time Kulusevski had arrived at the edge of the West Ham area all sorts of options were presenting themselves, fitting confirmation of the Swede’s aforementioned life motto.

It would be easy to overlook, but in dinking inwards, giving the impression of being the sort of fruit who’s about to ping a shot with his left clog, Kulusevski did just enough to sway all three claret shirts around him in one direction, leaving the streets free for Kane to charge off in the other direction. As his pièce de résistance, Kulusevski then timed his flicked pass to perfection, ensuring that Kane was onside and his view unimpaired for the climax of the piece.

Sonny’s luck being what it is these days, an opposing sort got in first to poke the ball home, but rarely has an own goal been crafted with such beauty and precision.

As mentioned, come half-time, although a long way from first gear, AANP gazed upon the breadth of the domain and greeted it with a fairly care-free shrug. Matters seemed in hand.

3. Their Goal

Matters, however, then pretty swiftly u-turned. For a bod who appears to pride himself, and build entire empires, on defensive organisation, one can imagine that Senor Conte would have been out for blood after observing the goal we conceded, sloppiness oozing from its every pore.

At the time the throw-in was (rather dubiously, to my beady eye) taken, both Perisic and Hojbjerg were looking in directions other than the ball, which at any level of football is pretty thick stuff.

Had Perisic been on the right planet he might have assisted with the general operation to nullify Antonio, but by the time the penny dropped matters had progressed and the danger heightened. Now Perisic is something of a favourite around these parts, but there are times in life when one has to put one’s foot down. All the whipped crosses and wily know-how in the world doesn’t count for much if one is then going to drift off to the land of fairies when a throw-in is being taken within spitting distance, dash it.

Had any one of Sessegnon, Sanchez or Emerson been guilty of this they’d have had the book – and various heavier, blunter instruments – thrown at them by AANP, so there is no reason for Perisic to escape censure. The fellow deserves stern words and a brief thrashing.

Meanwhile Hojbjerg, another who really ought to know better, was, unbelievably, similarly gazing elsewhere at the crucial juncture. In his defence he was at least facing the ball, and had seemingly turned his head to yell at someone in the way footballers like to do to pass the time, but it was still a heck of an oversight.

Worse than this however, once he had refocused on current affairs, he (along with Bissouma) was far too slow to respond to the forward dart of Soucek. Both Messrs H. and B. had a couple of yards on Soucek, and yet while the latter built up a head of steam, our two did not accelerate beyond a common jog. By the time Hojbjerg bucked up his ideas it was far too late, while Bissouma didn’t even reach the point of bucking up ideas, and simply ambled along providing decoration to the piece.

All in all, a pretty soggy goal to concede, and one which rather summed up much of our play in the second half. Inevitably, Richarlison immediately brought a little spark when introduced, and one might charitably suggest that an away draw in a London derby is no small fry, but really, throwing away a lead against this mob was pretty criminal stuff. They were not particularly good; but frankly, neither were we.

4. Bissouma

I mentioned young Bissouma’s input – or lack thereof – into the goal conceded, and it summed up a rather underwhelming first start for the chap.

I actually thought his early knockings were pretty encouraging. He seemed more comfortable than most in receiving possession, unflustered by the presence of opposing legs around him and generally doing a pretty good impression of Bentancur when it came to receiving and redirecting the ball around the halfway line.

Matters started to take a turn for the murky when he picked up his yellow card. This in itself was pretty fat-headed stuff – unlucky though he was to be penalised for a foul, seemingly on the basis of crowd reaction rather than the referee having actually seen anything, thumping the ball away in response marked him out as a pretty dim cove.

If one wanted to quibble one might have cleared the throat and politely mentioned that thereafter he didn’t always have to play the way he was facing, his habit of popping the ball straight back to Davinson Sanchez frankly doing more harm than good given the latter’s pretty limited passing ability (it seems no coincidence that Emerson barely offers an attacking threat when Sanchez rather than Romero lines up for company inside him).

By half-time, it seemed from my vantage point that Bissouma had morphed from Bentancur to Winks during the course of proceedings, so it was some relief to see him approach the second half in a marginally more offensive spirit, receiving the ball on the half-turn and generally looking north for a useful pass to pick.

Nevertheless, it was all a little disappointing. Of his fabled zeal for intercepting and tackling there were only glimpses, and as mentioned, his role in the goal conceded was lamentable.

None of which is to write the chap off; far from it, he is one of the shrewdest signings we’ve made for some time. Just a shame that his middling performance last night was in keeping with all around him, and led to the forfeiting of a couple of quite obtainable points.

Categories
Spurs match reports

Spurs 4-1 Southampton: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. Emerson

Emerson had what might officially go down in the tome of such things as his best game in lilywhite. Admittedly the bar in this particular area is pretty low, the memory lingering long of countless dreadful attempted crosses last season, but let that not detract from some surprisingly impressive stuff in all areas for the peculiar chap. Who knew he had it in him?

If Emerson is the sort to let the failings of previous seasons weigh on him, he hides it well. Here is a fellow not wanting for self-confidence, irrespective of how much the evidence of the senses and weight of data has suggested he ought to think otherwise.

Watching him scurry off down the right, find himself incapable off beating a man or whipping in a cross, therefore decide to keep scurrying and eventually hit the byline, before attempting to pull back the ball out of necessity as much as anything else, you would think from his manner that he had long ago decided, with supreme confidence from the off, that scurrying to the byine and pulling back the ball was in fact the best possible plan, and nobody on earth could convince him that any alternative would be better – or indeed that any other living soul could execute it better than he. 

Impressively, however, it worked. In fact, just about everything Emerson tried on Saturday struck oil. From the starter’s clap he went about his business yesterday like a newly-born lamb having his first taste of spring and deciding that he’d be dashed if he was going to be prevented from gambolling about the place.

With Kulusevski on hand to provide attacking finesse as required, Senhor E’s willing and energy, and runs and uncomplicated passes, had the left side of Southampton scampering around in something of a muddle throughout.

His input for Kulusevski’s goal illustrated much of what he was doing well – first summoning the energetic spirit of that new-born lamb to bound off towards that murky area in between corner flag and penalty area, then picking a pass as simple as it was effective for Master K, who did the rest with customary aplomb.

His contribution to the own-goal was ultimately a little less conventional, his self-confidence by this point reaching the stratospheric height at which simply being wing-back was beneath him, and he fancied himself rather as a Haaland sort, motoring through the centre as the furthermost forward – but mark the preamble. Emerson tackled his man cleanly in the traditional right-back berth, then, rather than sitting back to admire his handiwork, led the charge over halfway at the sort of lick that was less new-born lamb and more thoroughbred racehorse.

Having successfully communicated the message that one need not whip in crosses from deep in order to fulfil one’s attacking remit as a wing-back, it is also worth noting that his attacking success did not come at the expense of his defensive duties. In fact, he was as diligent as the next man when on sentry duty. It was all most impressive. Whether he can hit such heights next week, say, at Chelsea, is for another day, but with Dohertys and Spences now littering the place one cannot fault Emerson’s first stab at the role of 22/23 RWB.

2. Kulusevski

Not that Saturday was simply the Emerson Show, with others in attendance offering supporting roles only. Far from it. The list of standout performers was pretty extensive – which mangles the language somewhat when you think about it, but such was the quality of the various presentations.

Kulusevski, yet again, hit impressive heights. He is quite the curio, being one of those attackers who bursts with creativity despite not having some obvious eye-catching quality. He is neither lightning-quick, nor possessed of stepovers and mazy dribbles and whatnot, and can sometimes give the air of one of those types who was not bestowed abundant gifts by Mother Nature, but made the most of what he had through hard work. Think Lampard or Kane.

And yet, his wealth of talents were on full display on Saturday, rendering him quite the unpredictable force. He seemed at any given moment as likely to go on the gallop; or pick a cute, short pass; or drag the ball back and switch directions, making the entire Southampton back-line trip over themselves; or whip in a cross begging to be despatched; or have a shot for himself. Whenever the ball entered his orbit, marvellous things began to happen.

If he had done nothing more than deliver the cross for Sessegnon’s goal I’d still have purred about him a goodish bit – but that was arguably not even the best cross he delivered, one in the second half that Romero might have flung himself at being arguably of finer quality. The second half also saw him pick out something close to the perfect pass for Sessegnon to steam onto; on top of which there was his goal, stroked in with the nonchalance of one idly pinging a ball from A to B while stretching his limbs on the training pitch.

How long it will be before he is spoken of in the exalted terms generally reserved for English-born folk remains to be seen – it took Sonny a good half-dozen years – but if he continues to deliver on a weekly basis to limited acclaim beyond N17 then there will be no complaints over here.

3. Bentancur

And yet even Kulusevski cannot necessarily be deemed the outright champion of all he surveyed on Saturday. As seems to have happened every time he skims the surface in lilywhite, Master Bentancur breezed through the game on a different plane from anyone else.

He really is the rarest of nibs, one who seems to see the game from a vantage point about twenty yards above ground level, with panoramic vision that takes in the positions and movements of all other bodies on the pitch. How else to explain the marvellous fellow’s ability to flick first-time passes in directions well beyond the realms of terrestrial vision?

Here at AANP Towers we are very much of the opinion that passes do not necessarily need to be earth-shattering as long as they are popped along swiftly. A first-time pass can rearrange the pieces just as effectively as one of those pearlers that bisects a clutch of opponents. Bentancur seems effortlessly to have mastered both disciplines, often at the same time. One could remover the goals from the pitch, and still delight in watching him dip his shoulders and ping his passes, simply for the heck of it.

On top of which, any asterisked concerns in his early days about him sometimes being ambushed by the pace of things over here seem to have been dispelled. The young bean was shuttling the ball off in new directions before opponents realised he had it; on top of which he was pretty zesty in the tackle too.

4. Sessegnon

Here at AANP Towers we are certainly fond of the grumble, and at various and regular points last season wasted little time in jabbing an accusing finger at young Master Sessegnon.

As with Emerson on t’other flank, Sessegnon seems to have used his summer weeks wisely, and went about his business on Saturday looking a darned sight more assured about his trade than previously.

The early goal presumably helped chivvy him along in this sense, but in general where last season a nameless fear seemed to envelop everything he did, often manifesting itself in heavy touches and complete absence of ball control, on Saturday he seemed vastly more capable when it came to the basics, and was a viable option on the left throughout his hour.

It was rather satisfying to note that the chap has well and truly got to grips with Conte-ball, regularly popping up in the area as an auxiliary attacker, as any wing-back should under Our Glorious Leader. He scored one, had one disallowed for offside – admittedly his own fault for jumping the gun, but again reflecting an eagerness to elbow his way into positions from which he can observe the whites of the goalkeepers’ eyes – and was denied a second goal only by a last-ditch tackle from KEP.

(A note on KWP while on the subject – the young pip has attracted some attention, with various fellow lilywhites reverently bawling that we should be in for his services again. To these I wave a dismissive hand, because no self-respecting defender ought ever to be outmuscled in the air, and in his own six-yard box, by anyone, let alone by the waif-like physique of Sessegnon; and to anyone who marvelled at the aforementioned last-ditch tackle I suggest that the best defenders read the game well enough not to need to make up five yards and execute sliding tackles from behind.)

But reverting back to Sessegnon – as with more than one of the above, this was comfortably one of his better days in lilywhite. One would expect Perisic to assume responsibilities for bigger tests, but if Sessegnon gets wheeled out for Southampton and the like he’ll get a glowing reference and rousing hand from me.

5. The Debutants

After six summer signings, I rather liked the fact that the only new sight was the gleaming kit (top marks from AANP by the way, a fan of the simple white shirt over here) and a couple of new-fangled set-piece operations. It sent the message that one has to earn one’s place in this team – earn one’s spurs, if you will – and helped to cement the notion that ours is a setup that increasingly needs to think like a big club.

Bissouma only got five minutes or so, but seemed determined not to be constrained by such mortal limitations as time, and set about cramming as much action as possible into his brief cameo. Thus we were treated to Bissouma blocks, interceptions, sensible passes, a yellow card and, intriguingly, a long-distance effort hit with some wattage. With Hojbjerg hitting (the pass in the build-up to Kulusevski’s goal was a weighted delight) but also missing (various misplaced passes littered the place), Bissouma’s brief bustle made for quite the hors d’ouevres.

Perisic had a little longer to acquaint himself with things, and similarly caught the AANP eye. The headlines of his half-hour were a couple of forays in the meaty end of things – stepovers and party-tricks to evade his man, followed by a couple of crosses into dangerous squares of the penalty area. These bode well, and in time one imagines Kane and chums feasting on his produce.

But as a long-time admirer of the chap, I kept a particular eye on his positioning at every given point, and noted that it is safe to say that rumours of him being well attuned to the whims of Senor Conte are resoundingly true. As soon as we turned over possession he was off on the gallop, well in advance of the defensive line – and, as often as not, in advance of the midfield line too. Where Sessegnon seems content enough to stay within a stone’s throw of Ben Davies, Perisic has more heady ambitions, and could regularly be spotted further up the pitch than anyone else, and frankly straining at the leash for a ball to be released onto which he might run.

All of which meant that when we lost possession he was a good-ish distance up the pitch, but the honest fellow made the effort to sprint back to his post. Should he feature against Chelsea next week I’ll be intrigued as to the extent to which his attacking instincts are indulged or otherwise.

And finally there was also a brief cameo for Lenglet, who took up the appropriate position on the left, and seemed to make the sensible hand-gestures of one who wants at least to look he knows what he’s about. He also picked a handy pass in the move that led to Bissouma’s long-distance shot, which earned him a subtle nod of approval – but his appearance was little more than a chance for Conte to flex a bicep and show the world that he has Levy eating out of the palm of his hand.

So after one fixture we sit pretty atop the pile. While it is, of course, mathematically possible that we might yet blow this, frankly anything less than the title would now be a massive disappointment.

(Tweets hither)

Categories
Spurs news, rants Spurs transfers

Yves Bissouma: Three Tottenham Talking Points

1. Joyous Tidings

If you happened to notice AANP bounding about the place in particularly bonny, blithe and gay fashion in the last week or so I’d congratulate you on your perceptive nature. Every now and then our lot unveil a new signing that puts no end of buck in the step, and the scrawl of Yves Bissouma across the headed notepaper has done precisely that.

I mentioned in my last tuppence worth, a couple of weeks back, that I’m not generally one to devote my energies to watching opponents, being far too consumed with monitoring the every move of those in lilywhite. As a result, it’s something of an event when an opposing player catches the AANP eye during a Tottenham game, but in this category young Monsieur Bissouma can proudly step up to collect a gong and clear his throat for a victory speech.

The job he did when we travelled to Brighton last season, was quite something to behold. Memory suggests that while some other chappie pinched the last-minute goal that weighted the scoreline in Brighton’s favour, it was Bissouma’s security work in the central areas that won the thing. In particular, I wouldn’t wonder if that rotter Harry Kane greeted Bissouma’s arrival in N17 by bunging him over the head with a brick, such was the job done by the latter on the former in that match. Whenever the ball was shoved in the general radius of Kane, Bissouma was upon him in an instant, sucking the life – and most of our collective creative juices – out of him for the entirety of the gig.

And while admittedly one random shindig in the sun last season is not the sort of stuff upon which one ought to base a fully-fledged opinion, the bespectacled sorts who crunch numbers have rather more weight to throw behind the chap. For a start, the numbers have him down as having made more frequent tackles and interceptions than anyone else in the league last season, which lends a touch more gravity to the argument and has me nodding an admiring head.

Of course, he might still swan into the team and prove a dreary letdown (he wouldn’t be the first in the hallowed corridors of the Lane) but frankly the odds are stacked in his favour. A player who looked in charge of much he surveyed last season, with a couple of years of Premier League experience and, at 25, one would presume a fair amount of oxygen to in his lungs, represents one heck of a deal at £25m.

Indeed, he even popped up with a rather eye-catching solo goal in the Cup fixture at N17 last season; although my spies assure me that such activities are the exception rather than the norm when it comes to Bissouma’s list of bullet points. Nice to know that he’s capable of such things, of course, but the fellow has been designed by Mother Nature for more defensive-minded inputs.

And that’s fine by me. While Bentancur would collect the ball and dreamily pop it along to the better-placed, Hojbjerg last season grafted away but often seemed to be operating on the very last couple of drops of energy wrung from his tissues. The addition therefore of a bona fide midfield enforcer is pretty exciting stuff, particularly given that in our neck of the woods midfielders tend to be the creative sorts who’d rather not waggle too many defensive legs if they can get away with it.

2. How He Fits In

The central options next season therefore appear to read: Bentancur, Bissouman, Skipp and Hojbjerg, the first two of whom will presumably rise, cream-like to the top, but the latter two of whom have respectively the energy and nous to deputise at the drop of any hats and with minimal disruption or – crucially – dip in quality.

One might, of course, quibble, that between this quartet there is still something of a dearth of creative tricks and party-pieces that make the eyes pop and opposition fall apart at the seams, but that’s not really the point. Conte-ball seems to require a central midfield pairing that neutralises all threats and shifts us from back- to front-foot in the blink of an eye, and in both respects Bissouma appears to be precisely the sort of egg about whom exciting montages are spliced together.

(Some might also point that the potential incoming of a certain free-of-charge alumnus in central midfield would add a degree of creativity, and the option for tactical tweaks away from 3-4-3, but that’s a debate for another time.)

3. Our Changing Transfer System

Part of the thrill of all this to-ing and fro-ing is the pretty radical departure it signals from the traditional way of doing things in N17. We’ve been raised (rather cruelly it seems to me) on a diet of tortuous transfer sagas stretching the entirety of the summer, before a last-minute panic to complete deals, and the signing of a couple of unproven bods in their early twenties with potential sell-on value.

Witness the current contrast. Three deals inked and ready to go before the longest day of the year has stretched its legs; each of whom are proven in their positions. This rather than being the sort for whom we wait, with fingers crossed and lips pursed, to see if they’ll fulfil their potential.

Frankly, the good sense of this summer’s dealings thus far, coupled with the no-nonsense way in which players have been identified as the best available to meet the necessary criteria, makes this seem like a game of Football Manager rather than the Way of Things in Hotspur-land.

The immediacy of it all – buying proven players who can waltz straight into the starting line-up and will improve our league position in this coming season, rather than three years hence – is both unusual and jolly entertaining. Frankly, it represents a degree of sensible thinking I had not thought possible with our lot. But then, Conte has seemingly had that effect in all he does about the place. And Grandmaster Levy, rather sensationally, is now backing the honest fellow! Long may the sanity continue!

(Not wanting to gloss over the potential seriousness of the legal case hanging over him, but with no information available it’s near-impossible to opine one way or t’other at present, so the ramblings above are purely football-related)