Categories
Spurs match reports

Spurs 4-1 Newcastle: Six Tottenham Talking Points

1. Kulusevski Central

It would be over-stretching things to suggest that AANP is like a broken clock in stumbling upon a notion of some virtue twice a day, but, like a broken calendar, bang on the money once a year sounds about right – and having bleated away about the virtues of Kulusevski through the centre rather than on the wing, in the aftermath of the West Ham defeat, I was pretty pleased to see the pieces duly rearranged today.

Not that Kulusevski was necessarily the standout performer today. In fact, I’d shove him at least halfway done the list. Which is not to say he did much wrong, far from it, but various colleagues around him seemed to tick the ‘Above and Beyond’ box more obviously, and things ought to be done in right and proper way.

But having Kulusevski through the midfield seemed both to reduce the more vexing elements of his game (viz. the propensity, come hell or high water, to drag the ball back onto his left foot as if under contractual obligation) and also to lend a useful platform to some of his more amenable personality traits. These might be said to include but not be limited to: the thoughtful burst into the penalty area as delivery arrives from wider spots; the licence occasionally to bob up on the left; the application of what strikes me as pretty considerable body-weight forcefully into any of the opposing back-four dallying on the ball; and the generally wholesome practice of racing towards goal from a central berth whilst simultaneously weighing up options right and left.

In short, the shackles seem removed when he plays as a Number 10. Quite what reconfiguration occurs when Maddison returns is anyone’s guess, but if there’s a society for the Repositioning of Kulusevski From The Right To The Centre then they can count on my signature and enthusiastic attendance at fundraisers and whatnot. Keep him there, I say, or at least resist the urge to move him right again when Maddison returns.

2. Sonny on the Left

Of course, much like a butterfly flapping its wings out in the Amazon, one cannot yank Kulusevski from the right and re-position him centrally without all manner of implications rippling away across N17, so there would no doubt have been a few arrows scrawled across the pre-match whiteboard .

The fallout involved the remarkable sight of a right-footed player on the right wing, as Brennan Johnson won that particular raffle; which in turn necessitated a change in personnel on the left. One can well imagine Our Glorious Leader scanning the changing room, spying young Bryan Gil, and without even pausing to think just getting right on again with his scanning.

Sonny got the nod, and wasted precious little time in slotting back into the old uniform. Whether it was a first-time flick into the path of a chum while dropping deep, or a stepover-laced dribble into the penalty area topped off with some pretty inviting end-product, Son brought a healthy dose of A-game to just about everything he did out on the left.

And it was worth remembering, as he set about creating both first half goals in near-identical fashion, that the opposing right-back with whom he toyed was none other than the fondly-remembered Master Trippier, a chap who doesn’t surrender his territory too lightly.

Whilst the risk of deploying Sonny on the left was that it left things uncertain in the central striking role, the decision seemed a pretty smart one if only for the nuisance he made of himself throughout. For all their willing, it is difficult to imagine that Gil or Johnson might have brought home quite such riches; while Richarlison is more of a striker itching to move infield than any sort of left winger. This was pretty electric stuff from Son, who fully merited his late goal.

3. Richarlison

That Amazonian butterfly clearly put in quite the shift, for the after-effects did not end with Sonny’s move to the left. That, of course, left an awkward conversation to be had behind closed doors, given that Richarlison has spent the last couple of years since his arrival diligently pinging his shots everywhere but the nearest net, pausing only to occasionally trip over his own shoelaces.

And when a couple of missed half-chances in the opening 5 minutes brought that all-too-familiar Brazilian scowl, I did scuttle over to the nearest wall against which I might bang the old head a few times. The early signs were that this was a production I’d seen once or twice before.

Mercifully, however, after a conflab of twenty minutes or so, the gods evidently gave it a shrug and granted Richarlison a spot of respite. His first goal might not have been the purest strike of the weekend, but I doubt there’s a lilywhite in the land who gave too many hoots about that. If Richarlison has any sense of decency he’ll spot Sonny a slap-up meal at an over-priced restaurant in the coming days, for his captain did a spiffing job in moulding the opportunity that, if not quite unmissable, was certainly in not-too-much-work-required territory.

And in this day of the tedious knee-slide celebration I always consider that I can spot a man who really enjoys his goal, if he leaps into the thinner part of the atmosphere and swipes a clasped fist. Richarlison certainly enjoyed the moment.

Evidently, it takes more than one poacher’s goal to shed the alter ego and adopt a new persona completely, and the Richarlison of old swiftly returned when a presentable airborne opportunity ricocheted his way shortly afterwards, the man flinging himself at the thing a moment too late, as has been his wont for about two years now.

I also fancy he enjoyed another splash of luck with his second (footing another bill at one of London’s premier eating spots by the by, in gratitude to Pedro Porro), as his first touch when in on goal was not necessarily ideal. But to his credit, having taken a presentable chance and complicated it, he then redeemed himself in the blink of an eye, taking what had therefore become a complicated chance and despatching it, with minimal further fuss. One scratched the head a bit, but a joyous outcome is not to be sniffed at; and importantly R9 is a fellow the quality of whose next deed seems to depend significantly upon the quality of his previous deed – so this all bodes pretty well.

And as a sidenote, even before he was gaily tucking away his goals, I noted with great satisfaction that Richarlison could frequently be observed to commit his full body and I suspect a decent part of his soul to the act of tracking back and winning possession from the Newcastle mob. A well-executed slide tackle is always appreciated, and Richarlison delivered at least three of them. The young bean’s commitment to the cause has never faltered; that his radar began working again today was all the more pleasing.

4. Udogie and Porro

I mentioned above that there were a good few names above Kulusevski when it came to the matter of Star Performer, and both of Udogie and Porro would feature in such a list.

Udogie, I consider, rather owed us a stand-out performance, given that his entirely unnecessary two-footed lunge against Chelsea seemed to spark off the calamitous sequence that we have only just arrested. Admittedly he cannot be blamed for the injuries, and he actually got away with the lunge, but not being one to let the truth get in the way of a decent narrative I continued to murmur, “And well he should,” during the early minutes, in which he seemed to have assumed the role of String-Puller-In-Chief.

And by golly he was in fine old fettle. Even though it happens every week that he simply ambles up the field and presents himself as some sort of free-spirited attacking egg, I did nevertheless gawk a bit at the positions he adopted and the array of neat, sly passes he dished out.

Good of him to chip in with a goal too, and it says much about his role in the team that the sight of him tapping in from six yards did not raise too many positional eyebrows. This, it appears, is just what he does.

I hesitate to scribble, “And opposite Udogie,” when describing young Porro, because it is similarly difficult to pin down the latter, but he was also in attendance, and also having quite the night. The diagonal into the path of Richarlison for our third probably takes the spot on the mantlepiece for his most eye-catching contribution (and with perfect timing too, Newcastle at that stage having given it 15 minutes of honest toil, and threatening to make a game of things).

But in general, and as against West Ham, Porro combined intelligent positions with effective contributions, whether popping up in midfield to chivvy things along, or getting his head down in the final third to try to help finish things off.

5. Sarr: Outstanding

But from the AANP vantage point young Sarr took the gong today. For much of the game our heroes gave the impression of having a numerical advantage over the other lot, swarming them and not giving them the time to collect their thoughts and admire the sights when they were in possession;, and triangling the dickens out of them when we were in possession, regularly appearing to have an extra man at whichever point on the pitch the action was unfolding. And as often as not that extra man appeared to be Sarr.

I don’t know what sort of diet he goes in for but I wouldn’t mind finding out and dabbling, because the chap seemed not to stop running throughout. Which, logically enough I suppose, had the consequence that he seemed always to be involved. He was strongly in the market for tackles, interceptions, passes and then, in common with most of our heroes in those rather fun-filled final 20 minutes or so, shoulder-dips and dribbles out of tight spots. It was one of the more complete central midfield performances amongst our lot in recent times.

It also had the pleasing side-effect of making Bissouma look a bit more like his former self, and making me reflect, in idler moments, at quite what a difference there was between a team built upon Sarr and one built upon Hojbjerg.

6. Davies, Romero and the Defence

The individual performances helped no end, but it also made a world of difference that the now standard Dominant First Half was augmented by not one but two goals. To the list of teams comprehensively outplayed we can add Newcastle, but whereas in 4 of the previous 5 games we have had but a one-goal lead to show for some lovely build-up play and almost playground-esque possession, this time the world felt a much happier place when the cast trooped off at half-time two goals to the good.

There was still ample time to stuff up various further opportunities, and one does drop to the knees and implore the forward mob to take a tad more care in the final third and make sure of things, but it was a definite improvement.

And yet it might well have been to no avail, because at nil-nil we continued to look pretty open and inviting at the rear. It might be a consequence of full-backs being allowed to go wandering off, or it might be something else entirely, but whereas when our defence is arranged in a low block I feel that matters are relatively well contained, when we are caught in possession on halfway and the opposition counter, the whole thing does tend to unfold with a pretty alarming inevitability. Put another way, teams do not really have to work too hard to fashion clear-cut chances against our lot. Nab the ball on halfway and they’re as good as in.

And with that in mind I might take a few suggestions from Richarlison and splash out myself on one of those expensive meals, this time for Ben Davies, in commemoration of what was actually a scarcely believable intervention in the first half to keep Newcastle at bay. Pretty easy to let the mists of time do their thing and forget it ever happened, but when a Newcastle type on their left scuttled unopposed from halfway to our area, his square pass seemed to have doom scrawled all over it.

Davies flung himself at it full length, in what appeared to be an admirable but futile gesture. At best, I mused while wincing in expectation of the inevitable, this will be an own-goal. The laws of physics seemed to allow for little else, given that Davies was extending himself at full stretch and in the wrong direction.

Quite how he therefore managed to avoid poking the ball into this own net having made contact with it, was a conundrum of the highest order. That he additionally managed to do just enough to divert the thing sufficiently that the waiting Newcastle forward behind him then missed the target, was quite remarkable.

Mercifully, having figured out, at least for one night, how to apply finishing touches to all the gorgeous build-up play, it didn’t matter too much that we remain pretty open at the back sans Van de Ven. It helps that for the most part, Davies and Romero know their eggs when it comes to the sort of defending that isn’t just a flat foot-race from halfway.

But had Romero been sent off for his bizarre late lunge, the AANP teeth would have been ground with a fury rarely previously witnessed. The game was won, our heroes were bedded in and well into their stroke-the-ball-about routine, when out of nowhere Romero took it upon himself to wait for the ball to depart the scene and then leave his studs upon the lower leg/above-the-foot region of some Newcastle sort. Irrespective of any sort of provocation – and frankly there didn’t appear to be much – it was about as knuckle-headed as they come, particularly as the young fool has only just reappeared after the previous three-month ban. Egads.

Still, we got away with that, and more broadly, delivered the sort of walloping that we’ve been threatening in at least 4 of the previous 5 games (or at least first halves). Continue to execute three or four of the numerous chances created each week, and we ought to be pretty well set when Maddison and VDV return; but irrespective of that, the mood is lightened for the week.

Categories
Spurs match reports

Man City 3-3 Spurs: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. The Bryan Gil Quandary

I seem to recall that when applying to the old alma mater, I was faced with an exam question asking whether I would steer a runaway train to mow down 6 evil folk tied to one track, or switch to another track on which was tied 1 honest and virtuous sort of egg. And that particular quandary flitted to mind as half-time approached yesterday, and Bryan Gil was bounced off the ball for about the twentieth consecutive occasion.

For broadly speaking, this was not his day. Whereas last week his end result was repeatedly wanting, yesterday he didn’t even make it that far, barely able to put a foot on the ball without being sent flying from the premises. It’s been all very well joshing one another and making cracks about the lad needing to shove a few steaks down his gullet, but the blighter has had three years to plumpen that scrawny frame, and he still looks no bulkier than the day he arrived.

No particular finesse or talent was required by the City mob to edge him out of the game, they simply took a deep breath and blew, and he was knocked off his stride. If they really wanted to twist the knife in they gave him a spot of shoulder too, and down he tumbled.

But, crucially, the one moment he did stay on his feet long enough to affect the game, he set in motion our goal. When he received the ball, from a half-hearted clearance of a corner, the siren was still wailing to signify immediate and considerable risk to our own goal. City had monopolised possession since kick-off, and had amassed themselves around Vicario for a corner. Scoring ourselves was just about the last thing on anybody’s mind.

As such it’s difficult to quantify the praise due to Gil, for first shielding the ball; then swivelling the hips niftily enough to leave his marker needing a quiet sit-down; before rolling the ball into the path of Kulusevski and yelling, ‘Fetch!’

From where this moment of inspiration emanated is anyone’s guess, but it is no huge stretch to describe it as game-changing. Thereafter, of course, he was back to his wispy and ineffective self, repeatedly nudged out of possession and spending most of his afternoon sprawled on the floor and waving his arms, like an angry toddler. He had one split-second opportunity to play in Son when City gifted him possession 30 yards out, but dithered over that too, as if to emphasise the sort of afternoon he was having.

All of which left me wondering, much like a driver at the controls of a runaway train, was it worth 44 and a half minutes of a Bryan Gil so impotent that we were effectively down to 10 men, in return for the one moment of magic that earned us a pretty priceless goal? And being an all-action-no-plot sort, you can probably work out what I decided there.

2. Lo Celso

Oddly enough, the AANP take on Giovanni Lo Celso was not a million miles from that of Gil.

Different sorts of performances, in the specifics, of course. For a start Lo Celso, having a bit more meat on his bones than Gil (hardly a distinguishing feature, granted) tended to leave a few souvenirs about the place on the limbs of City folk – but here, for a start, I rather took exception to him.

Cast your minds back to last week, and having dominated Villa for a half, we conceded from a free-kick deep in first-half stoppage time. Cast your minds back another 20 seconds or so, and you may recall that said free-kick was conceded by none other than G. Lo C, and pretty needlessly so, I don’t mind adding. It was not a free-kick of the ilk that Kulusevski cunningly conceded in the dying embers yesterday, cynically hacking to terra firma an opposing blister who was rushing towards our area. Lo Celso’s was an unnecessary and unsubtle shove on some random nib who was largely immersed in his own thoughts out on the touchline. But from this pointless intervention, Villa swung a free-kick into the area and scored.

Now you can probably see where this is going, but yesterday, with the cheers still ringing about the place in salute of Sonny’s opener, Lo Celso was at it again, utterly needlessly bundling over Bernardo Silva in pretty much an identical spot, gifting City a set-piece from which they duly equalised.

And thereafter, GLC was definitely present, occasionally popping up to receive and transfer possession, but without ever really stamping any authority on things. Where Maddison, to take the obvious comparator, tends to bustle about the place demanding possession, Lo Celso struck me as happy enough just to be there.

Now crucially, the fellow scores. And dashed good goals they are too. Last week’s against Villa was a corker, albeit assisted by an errant opposing thigh; and yesterday’s was similarly despatched with the sort of dreamy ease that is the reserve of only a select few technical sorts. He might have had another too, stationing himself outside the area and lashing another volley from a half-cleared corner, à la last week against Villa.

One gets the point, therefore. Lo Celso scores goals. I’m not sure he provided much additional value yesterday, rather pottering around without creating a great deal, but he has two exceptionally well-taken goals in his record-book, and from only two starts, which is more than can be said of Richarlison or Johnson or various others.

The whole thing does make me wonder if he is something of an Eriksen sort, in terms of being the type of player who will flit around the peripheries for much of the game, apart from when he contributes to goals – therefore always appearing on Match of the Day and seeming to be quite an important player, until you watch the full game and realise you barely notice him.

This might also explain why he always seems to return from international duty with a rich old haul to his name – goals and assists and whatnot, for Argentina – and then promptly flatters to deceive in lilywhite.

Either way, by the time he was withdrawn late on in the piece yesterday, I was ready to give the head quite the contemplative scratch. Not really sure what to make of him. Of the useful prodding and passing in the final third last week against Villa, there was little sight. However, City away is a tough old nut for anyone to crack, so perhaps best to give him benefit of the doubt this week; and with the midfield cupboard still pretty bare he will presumably receive plenty more opportunity to clarify his value in the coming weeks.

3. Bissouma

If the AANP mind was a little torn on GLC’s performance yesterday, there was a lot less doubt about poor old Bissouma. Fair to say the chap stank the place out, pretty much throughout. His first half contributions seemed most notable for a succession of basic passes played out into touch in a left-back sort of spot; his principal second half contribution was to gift City their third goal.

Form being temporary and all that, I’m quite prepared to dismiss this one as an outlier, and look forward to brighter things in the coming games. He showed often enough at the start of the season that he’s capable enough of swanning past flailing opposition legs to bring the ball out of defence, and against teams slightly less accomplished than City one would hope his approach bears a bit more fruit.

But yesterday, particularly in the first half, when our lot got themselves into deep and irredeemable muddles, Bissouma’s attempts to receive the ball at the base of midfield and shimmy out of trouble were actually at the core of many of our woes.

He was not alone in this – Emerson seemed at times actively to be trying to convince all onlookers that his selection as ball-playing centre-back was an error of the deepest magnitude, providing a steady stream of evidence to convince The Brains Trust never to select him there again. Even Vicario, normally pretty a confident sort of chappie with ball at his feet, was pretty woefully misreading the old compass and spraying the ball all over the place.

But having yearned over the last few weeks for Bissouma to return from his spells on the naughty step, I must confess to feeling mightily underwhelmed as he rolled out one poorly-executed offering after another. As with Lo Celso, the opportunities to atone lie ahead.

4. Kulusevski

But if that lot were all strangely off-colour, young Kulusevski was pretty happy to roll up his sleeves and single-handedly bail them all out.

In fact, there I immediately do him a disservice, for it was with the greatest approval that I noted the chap turning up his nose at this business of long-sleeved under-garments, and setting about his work in a t-shirt. Thus attired, for a game of football rather than a fireside mug of cocoa, he did rather the opposite of Emerson, by indicating to the galleries that he rather fancied himself in his new-ish role, as Number 10.

He was shunted back out to the right in the second half, which I thought rather a shame ( if understandable, to accommodate the replacement of Gil with Hojbjerg), but in the first half he made quite the impact slap bang in the middle of things.

For a start, his contribution to our opening goal was expertly judged and executed. It actually amounted in its entirety to a single swing of the left clog, but this was plenty, and precisely what was required – letting the ball run across him, spotting the gallop of Son and delivering a cross-field pass that ticked all boxes in terms of weight, height, direction and so forth.

Less headline-grabbing, but equally valuable to the AANP eye, was Kulusevski’s diligent work in dropping deep in midfield to collect the ball and shield it from interfering City souls. On several occasions as our various defensive incompetents made a dreadful hash of playing out from the back, Kulusevski buzzed in to lend a hand, usefully positioning the entirety of his bulk between the ball and the opponent, and thus turning defence into attack in a trice.

And while I lamented his switch to the right in the second half, where his options diminish and his predictability grows, it was nevertheless from this station that he came barrelling in for that glorious equaliser, again utilising every cubic inch of his frame to bulldoze aside Ake and make sure that he and he alone would be winning the header (or shoulder, as it transpired).

A complimentary word too for Sonny, indefatigable throughout, and as critical to the second goal as well as he was clinical with the first, but Kulusevski took the AANP gong for Outstanding Contribution to Madcap Proceedings yesterday.

5. Ange-Ball: Here To Stay

Ange-Ball it is then. For the complete avoidance of any lingering shred of doubt, Our Glorious Leader sent us out to play the best team in the world, whilst shorn of 10 or so personnel, and still stuck to his play-out-from-the back system with all the dedication of a religious zealot.

No doubt there are still those who grumble about the approach, and will furiously wave the takings of 1 point from 12 as proof that this is madness. To which, in the first place, I shrug the shoulders and say it’s all pretty academic as this is clearly going to continue happening. On top of which, it’s vastly more entertaining to watch us go down swinging than adopting a miserable, Conte-esque to life obsessed with defending one’s own penalty box.

And on top of all of that, while 1 point may represent the sum of the last 4 games, on balance that’s a pretty wonky representation of the manner in which those games have unfurled. We actually looked like scoring when down to 9 men against Chelsea; came within injury-time of beating Wolves; would have been out of sight of Villa by half-time if our forwards had learnt to shoot straight; and I’m not sure we’d have taken a point from City by simply sitting deep, clearing the danger and waiting for the next barrage for 90-plus minutes.

Back to yesterday, and while fully signed up to Ange-Ball and its eccentricities, I did nevertheless wonder, as time and again I watched Vicario pass the ball straight to their striker and Emerson dribble straight into the nearest opponent, whether our heroes might apply an extra brain cell or two to their approach. I’m all for sticking to the strategy, and every now and then when it did work we shifted the narrative, in the blink of an eye, from Outside-Own-Area to Approaching-Their-Goal.

But the air about the place all too often seemed to be that simply putting one’s signature to the approach was sufficient, and that the practical elements – such as the ball finding a teammate – would take care of themselves.  “Not really so,” I found myself murmuring, as Emerson played his umpteenth pass straight to light blue and City swarmed upon us once more. Much like VAR, I mused as City blasted the thing against our woodwork, I fully support the Ange-Ball theory but do sometimes wonder about those manning the controls. A mite more care and attention would have done wonders for the old heart-rate.

Anyway, we got away with it. Where last week our forwards had stuffed their lines against Villa, this week City’s forwards stuffed theirs against us, the thing going neatly full circle I suppose. On top of which, all three of our goals were actually pretty impressive specimens of Ange-Ball at its finest.

The first demonstrated the virtues of quick forward-shovelling of the treasured orb, with Bryan Gil wriggling not just out of space but onto the front-foot, from the edge of his own area; the second in its genesis was a triumph of proactive bounding to get to the thing first (by both of Messrs Emerson and Davies); and the third, also at the nascent stage, owed much to young Master Skipp of all people twinkle-toeing his way between two opponents to start off the move. In all three of the above, those starting manoeuvres were fraught with risk – miscalculations of any of them would have resulted in some pretty furious back-pedalling.

We ought really to have been hammered – but then we all knew that anyway. Playing City with 10 absentees lends itself to such logic. But to come away with a point – riding our luck. scoring some lovely goals and nabbing a last-minute equaliser – was a pretty thrilling way to round off the weekend. The risks are clearly sky-high, but, particularly when our heroes finish as clinically as yesterday, the style of play creates enough chances to see us off with an overflowing goodie bag.

Categories
Spurs match reports

Spurs 2-0 Fulham: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. Hojbjerg

Evidence of the last couple of months suggests that, even though obliged to change his preferred XI by the rules and regulations, Ange did so only with the greatest reluctance, and likely a decent slab of harrumphing. But there we were, Bissouma’s previous follies meaning that Hojbjerg received a promotion, and at AANP Towers we rubbed an ever-so-slightly nervous chin before the curtain went up.

Anyone expecting Hojbjerg simply to get his head down and mimic the every shoulder-drop and forward burst of Bissouma would, of course, have been misreading the situation pretty drastically. Messrs P-E.H. and Y.B. are radically different beasts. Mercifully, however, if one could have drawn up a list beforehand of the preferred fixtures in which to replace the buzz and drive of Bissouma with the stasis and arm-flapping of Hojbjerg, I think a home date with Fulham might well have been pretty high up the list.

And frankly, it proved as gentle a stroll as hoped. In fact, in those opening ten minutes it appeared that we might not need Hojbjerg at all. As against Luton last time out, we had much of the runaway train about our work in last night’s opening scenes, running rings around our opponents and without too much need for the deeper-lying folk. This seemed to owe much to our pressing (which was mightily impressive throughout, strangling the life out of Fulham in their own half, bringing about both goals and generally compensating for a fair amount of sloppiness in the second half).

Back to Hojbjerg, and to his credit he did the various odd-jobs asked of him with pretty minimal fuss. The setup seemed to require him to fill in around various unglamorous locations towards the rear, but Hojbjerg being one of those curious eggs whose take on life is that the grubbier the task the better, this turned out to be a pretty convenient marriage. Fulham tried to clear to halfway, and Hojbjerg stepped up to snuffle it out; our heroes were forced to poke the ball backwards for a moment, and Hojbjerg availed himself to receive and re-distribute; and for good measure, when we threatened to become irresponsibly blasé about a one-goal lead, Hojbjerg was there to win possession high up the pitch and set up Sonny to set up Maddison for our second.

On the debit side, he did pick up an unnecessary and slightly odd booking, for opting to lunge at a Fulham body, changing his mind about matters fairly swiftly but finding that the laws of physics prevented him from effecting any alteration, and having simply to skid irresistibly about ten yards along the turf until he ploughed into his man; but then on the credit side he also played one of the passes of the season, about midway through the first half, reversing matters from left to right in a Harry Kane sort of way; so all told it was a perfectly acceptable night’s work.

Not a performance to win him any awards, nor to earn him a starting spot when Bissouma returns; but he did not look miles off the pace nor appear visibly out of sync when stepping into a unit that has been tightly-knit without him for 8 games, so he probably merits a nod of acknowledgement.   

2. Udogie

Never mind the miracles Big Ange has worked for our lot – his decision to hook young Master Udogie before we hit the 60-minute mark has left a pretty sickly hue over my fantasy team, so I’ll be demanding a full explanation at our next tete-a-tete.

I don’t know about you, but Udogie – or rather the positions and instructions Udogie is given – make my mind boggle like nobody’s business. It’s one of those awkward situations in which the more one tries to understand the thing the more complicated it all seems to become.

What I’m getting at is where the devil does he actually play? Convention would dictate ‘left-back’; the achingly fashionable amongst us call it ‘inverted full-back’; but watching the match unfold he seemed to decide that it was open season anywhere on the left, and if he had to slap a hand on the Bible and absolutely swear under oath he’d announce that an attacking midfield role, ever-so-slightly left of centre, was the spot for him. And since everyone around him was too polite or too consumed with their own affairs to correct him, there he stayed.

In the interests of accuracy, I probably ought to acknowledge that when we were out of possession he did trot back to an old-fashion left-back spot. In general, however, I cast a beady eye, spotted him a-wandering and duly scratched my head.

Anyway, whatever the hell you want to call his role, he did it pretty well, at least in an attacking sense. Maddison, as ever, was the brains of the operation, but I derived a fair amount of enjoyment in seeing Fulham simply unable to cope with the mere presence of Udogie as an additional forward body, adding to the numbers and generally making a nuisance of himself in between Richarlison and Son.

Out on the other side, Porro seemed more inclined to obey the rules of convention and hover within spitting distance of the touchline, generally limiting himself to one or two visits to the opposition area; but Udogie appears constantly to be one well-timed burst away from being our second striker.

As is often the case with these things, absence makes the heart grow fonder, and when Udogie was removed I thought we missed him somewhat. Emerson Royal, being a barmy sort, gave his own, rather madcap interpretation of the role, and with the entire collective being not quite at the races in the second half, the quality dipped notably.

So while I don’t pretend to understand his precise purpose, with each game I enjoy more and more the input from young Udogie, and hope that his early retirement last night was merely precautionary.

3. Romero

Not for the first time, some occasionally breathtaking football did not quite produce the rich harvest one would have hoped, and with only one first half goal to show for our efforts, those in the rear needed to pay a dashed sight more attention than one would have thought necessary.

At this point one could easily have gazed into the mid-distance, painted vivid images in the mind’s eye of Van de Ven neatly defusing bombs and extinguishing fires – and perfectly weighting passes that led directly to our opener, come to think of it – and purred appropriately at the chap for his highly impressive Jan Vertonghen Tribute Act.

But instead the AANP eye was drawn more towards the other side of central defence, where young Romero was busily plotting a flawless course through the night. Whenever Fulham broke down our right – and it seemed to happen far too often for my liking, considering the one-sided nature of proceedings – we seemed rather taken by surprise, as if such an eventuality simply hadn’t figured in all the pre-match planning. It was all a little too easy for Fulham to use that route to get within shooting distance. Where Senor Porro was in all this I’m not too sure, but happily the 2023/24 version of Cristian Romero has such matters well in hand.

On several occasions Romero popped up in precisely the spot in which trouble appeared about to befall, and for good measure, rather than simply blooting the ball to kingdom come, he typically had the presence of mind to make good use of it, either with a calming pass sideways, or, occasionally, with a gallop up the pitch.

As the game wore on and all in lilywhite cared less and less, Romero was called upon to do more than just intercept loose balls in his own area, increasingly being called upon to sprint back towards his own goal and put a lid on any looming trouble.

Much has been made of the calmer and wiser Romero, who this season thinks before hacking to pieces an opponent, but even with this new thoughtful head atop his shoulders, he still took every opportunity to put a bit of meaning into his tackles, going to ground and caring little if he upset the surrounding furniture.

As mentioned, Van de Ven did everything asked of him on the left, but I did particularly enjoy Romero’s bad-cop routine on the right.

4. Vicario

I trust that when Signor Vicario dived beneath the duvet and started totting up sheep last night, he was able to reflect on a pretty satisfactory day’s work for the employer. So far this season the young bean has attracted plaudits as much for his contributions to penalty area keep-ball as anything else, but last night he was called upon on a couple of occasions to lend a hand in the more traditional sense, and he did so in mightily impressive fashion.

It was the first half save that really caught the eye. A full-length extension, to a headed effort that for all the world looked already to be nestling in the net, was not to be sniffed at. Moreover, this came when the score was still 0-0, and when, although our lot were dominant, it was not yet clear that Fulham would be quite as bad as they were. It was worth a goal, and young Master V. ought to be serenaded appropriately for his efforts.

He had to make a couple more sharp-ish stops towards the end of things too, at that point at which a pact seemed to have been agreed by all concerned that 2-0 it would be, yet Fulham sneakily tried to score anyway. These later saves were a dash more straightforward, the ball being leathered pretty much straight at his frame, but I can think of former members of the parish who might have made a pig’s ear of them. They needed saving; and save them Vicario did.

Ironically enough, for one whose major contribution to date has been his confidence and capability with ball at feet, Vicario actually dropped something of a clanger in precisely that field in the first half, gifting possession to some Fulham sort inside our own area. Luckily enough, one of the main principles of the day – that Fulham were dreadful from root to stem – was swiftly reinforced, and they made little of the moment, but I thought it was a pleasing indication of quite how much Vicario has already banked that none in the galleries reacted with any opprobrium towards him.

5. A Below-Par Second Half

By my reckoning we ought to have been about 6-2 up at half-time, but instead had to make do with just the one – which would have been reasonable enough had we begun the second half with the same vim and vigour as that with which we ended the first.

Alas, our lot appeared to have tucked into sizeable portions of pasta at half-time, quite possibly washed down with an ale or two, because the sluggish second half approach was very much that of a troupe who felt their night’s serious business was done, and were content to pay only the loosest attention to proceedings for the remainder, seemingly adopting the view that any matters of precision and accuracy would take care of themselves.

Against anyone else this might have been a problem. Mercifully, Fulham – and in particular that lad Bassey, at the back – appeared to be Spurs fans at heart, and did their best to ensure a smooth passage to victory for us, both in spurning an alarming number of late chances but also, crucially, in gifting us a second goal to wrap things up, just when it seemed that we were starting to lose control of things.

How our heroes might have coped with the late concession of a goal, bringing the score back to 2-1, will forever remain unknown, but AANP certainly ground a displeased tooth as that second half unfolded. One would hope that the careless attitude was a product of the circumstance – a poor opponent; the sense that we could go up a gear or two if needed; the fixture list throwing up another joust on Friday night – but I would much rather have seen us roll up sleeves, apply boot to neck and see off the thing a little more professionally.

Still, it ended up being a mightily comfortable win, and with the Title now practically sewn up, the only question left at AANP Towers is whether we will bag the FA Cup as well.

Categories
Spurs match reports

Luton 0-1 Spurs: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. Missed Chances

Easy to forget by the time the credits rolled and we let out that enormous, collective exhalation of relief, a few years having been shaved off each individual, but our lot might – and really should – have been two or three goals up before the clock had even struck 7 minutes.

Profligacy hasn’t really tended to be a particular problem around these parts, so one generously excuses the wayward nature of the finishing yesterday as an isolated incident. ‘These things happen’, seems the platitude of choice in such situations, ‘no hard feelings’. But even armed with this ‘Forgive and forget, what?’ attitude to life, one cannot simply gloss over the fact that for each of the spurned chances I raised my eyes to the heavens and unleashed an almighty howl.

For make no mistake, as straightforward chances go all three of these were absolute corkers. With Luton ambling about the place like they had no idea what sport they were playing (our lot had 96% possession in those opening exchanges, egads!) decency really demanded that we shovelled a few into their net and had the thing done and dusted inside ten minutes.

Naturally, the simplest of these tasks fell to Richarlison, who, bruised potato that he currently is, found some pretty extraordinary ways to fashion a pig’s ear out of them.

The first opportunity would be described by most of sound mind as a tap-in from one yard, and as such be as inexcusable as they come. However, in the interests of fairness it is only right to allow the most zealous members of the Richarlison Fan Club to stamp their feet a bit and highlight the fact that such a description glosses over the fact that the ball reached their man at a most inconvenient height, thereby rather putting the skids on the notion of this as a ’tap-in’.

One sees both sides. The ball, when it did finally arrive at the prescribed meeting point, was at what might be described as Davinson Sanchez height – meant for the feet, but sufficiently high that the dimmer members of the clan might try heading it instead. The point being that it was rather an awkward height, and Richarlison therefore deserves some sympathy for failing to keep the thing under his spell.

Personally I’m not particularly convinced, as the chap had seemed to have done the hard work – arrived on location, connected foot to ball – and quite simply missed the target.

(I noted images circulating around the interweb, no doubt posted with accompanying shrieks of outrage, that appear to show the Luton bobbie in Richarlison’s slipstream grabbing a handful of his shirt at the vital moment. I strongly recommend that these are ignored, for watching the incident again, with the beadiest of eyes, seems to highlight that this was quite the non-event, and did nothing to affect the outcome.)

Minutes later, Richarlison had the ball on terra firma, and went for the bottom corner, only to be denied by the leg of the Luton goalkeeper. Again, our man’s supporters might argue, with some justification, that he didn’t do much wrong – kept it low, aimed for the corner, struck it cleanly and so forth – but the critical point is that six yards from goal with only the ‘keeper to beat, any self-respecting striker ought to be depositing the thing as if shelling a pea, and off for the mandatory knee-slide without the need for any further points of debate.

Pedro Porro was next, letting the ball run a mite too far away from him and consequently extending the lower appendage slightly more than the textbook suggests is optimal, with the net result that he steered the ball the wrong side of the post. This one actually surprised me, because if the last nine months or so have taught me anything about young Senor Porro it’s that he seems to finish better than Richarlison. No airs or graces, just decisive thwacks into the low corners.

All very irritating, but at this point it seemed that our lot were up against a bunch of poorly-arranged mannequins, and had brought their short-sharp-passing A-game, so a further hatful of chances would arrive pretty sharpish. One little would have suspected that we would have been deploying skin of the teeth to cling on to a one-goal win at the end, but I suppose the moral of the story here is just to bury the dashed chances when they thrust themselves into one’s lap.

2. Bissouma

That gushing stream of early chances stopped, scratched its head and opted to become more of a trickle after those first ten minutes, but as all concerned readied themselves for the midway intermission the general sense remained that our heroes remained comfortably superior, in all respects other than actually bobbing along the scoreline.

And until that part Bissouma had been buzzing along doing the sorts of things that Bissouma does. Part of the joy of the man is that he manages to cram into his nine-to-five the work of several different men. He is at various points Bissouma: Destroyer of Worlds, by virtue of his ability snatch the ball from opponents just outside our own area; also Bissouma: Dropper of the Shoulder, a party-trick again typically unveiled outside his own area, when receiving the ball under pressure and displaying a Waddle-esque ability to send opponents into another postcode without actually touching the ball, but simply by dipping the frame; and Bissouma: Carrier of the Ball, which tends to be more front page news, as he gallops over halfway and threads the thing onwards to an attacking comrade.

All of which meant that when he was removed from the cast-list, it felt like we had had more than one man sent off. There is having a player sent off, and the reshuffling that this requires; and there is having Bissouma sent off. He’s a pretty valuable commodity.

A pretty brainless one, too. Harking all the way back to his lilywhite debut, when he was cautioned for tossing the ball away with a bit of feeling, the chap seems to exhibit a penchant for idiocy of a pretty high level.

For a start, in every game he seems to booked for the same foul, a rather needless, inelegant and, crucially, wholly unsubtle bundling over of a scampering opponent from behind. Occasionally in such instances one surreptitiously lowers one’s gaze and murmurs a line or two about tactical fouls – but too often with Bissouma it seems fewer parts tactical and far too many parts reckless.

But then, having collected his token yellow, to fling himself to the ground and have himself expelled from the vicinity was utterly mind-boggling in its bone-headedness. I mean, really. How does a fellow so wanting for IQ manage to tie his laces in the morning?

And more to the point, his dive was pretty unabashed cheating. AANP has a pretty strict moral compass, and bilge like this stinks the place out. Not at N17, thank you. One could argue that there have been plenty of instances in recent years of tumbling to the ground as if shot under the slightest contact; but giving the old to-dust-I-shall-return routine when no contact has been made at all just simply isn’t cricket.

3. Romero

I noted that Jermaine Jenas displayed the slightly lazy tendency of the modern telly-box pundit in shoving the Man of the Match brick at the goalscorer. In fairness young Van de Ven could be considered a fairly worthy winner, having kept everything under lock and key at the back, and then displaying an impressive ability to reshuffle what seemed like numerous feet in setting himself for the winner.

But from the AANP Towers vantage point it was the fellow joined to VDV’s hip who caught the eye. Young Cristian Romero had one of his zingiest days in lilywhite, or pink, or whatever the kids are calling it these days. Whether it was heading, blocking, tackling or racing back to interfere with an opposing striker just as they were readying themselves for a spot of shooting practice, Romero seemed pretty determined to make this his day, irrespective of what Jermaine Jenas had to say on the matter.

It was all the more impressive when one considers the hot-headed Romero of yesteryear, whose mantra seemed to be ‘Chop someone in half first, debate the finer points in life later’. Practically a Buddhist monk by comparison these days, Romero barely makes a foul, can be seen to weigh up the pros and cons before charging into the action and even produces a spot of the old UN-Secretary-General routine, wading into on-field rows as peacemaker of all things, ushering away the more hot-headed and vocal souls around him.

Much has been made of the impact of awarding him the vice-captaincy, and I suppose the evidence of this honour is there for all to see, although being of a different vintage I’m rather dismissive of such things myself. But if improves Romero as a player, and tightens the defence accordingly, then I’m happy to toot the nearest klaxon in support.

Back to yesterday, and both the occasional cross into our box and more frequent glut of corners conceded had the AANP teeth grinding away, make no mistake. However, Romero, aided by his chums, kept trouble to a minimum. (Credit at this point also  to Our Glorious Leader for the introduction of Skipp and particularly Royal, to augment our back-four into a back-five, and reduce the threat posed by back-post crosses.)

It ought not to have been a day for trumpeting the centre-backs, but it’s pretty reassuring to know that should they be thrust into service then neither Romero will grab the responsibility and sling it over his shoulder with meaningful looks in all directions.

4. Kulusevski

I suppose few in attendance would have given more than cursory glance of acknowledgement to Dejan Kulusevski for his day’s work. ‘Busy throughout, and particularly effective in the first-half’, might have been the summary in the local rag, before awarding him a 6 out of 10 and sinking its teeth into Richarlison.

But again, in the spirit of championing the lesser-heralded amongst the troupe, AANP was positively drooling about the chap by the time the curtain came down. In particular, it was the effort he put in in the final 20 or so, when both Sonny and Maddison were hooked for the greater good, and one imagines the dialogue between Big Ange and Deki Kulusevski running along the lines of:

BA: shrug

DK: shrug (of acceptance)

At which point Kulusevski loped off to be the central striker, a pretty lonely job when everyone else of an attacking persuasion was topping up on their isotonic fluids and energy gels on the sidelines.

But Kulusevski comes across as the sort of chap who, in his youth, if told to run home five miles if he wanted feeding, simply laced up his trainers and started jogging. Yesterday, he did not stop running for the cause in those final stages, either up the top or out on the right.

Regularly spotted collecting the ball and motoring off into a corner, pursued by two or three of the enemy, he found himself simply having to stiffen the torso and barge interlopers out of the way while he waited for a spot of company. The drill seeming to be that we’d clear the ball to Kulusevski and rely on him single-handedly to delay Luton’s next attack, which seemed a mite harsh on the lad, but he’s evidently an uncomplaining sort.

As mentioned, few headlines will be written about him, and I don’t recall spotting too many garlands about his neck as he trooped off, but his contribution as lone-johnnie-holding-up-the-ball-in-attack was priceless stuff.

5. Spursy

It was only Luton (just as last week it was only nine men, and the previous week it was a team shorn of three or four first teamers) but AANP can barely sit still with excitement. Not so much for the League table, although Monday 20th May has already been marked with a big thick cross as the date for the open-top bus parade along the High Road. Rather, the thrill of all this is that we continue to win games in which, in recent (and more distant) history our heroes would have come out with the best intentions but flopped badly.

After a couple of injury-time winners in recent weeks, this time we were deducted a player for half the game and told to sink or swim. There are, I suppose, tougher assignments out there, but this nevertheless felt like a significant impediment, and an equally significant achievement. Keeping Luton at bay for 45 minutes in these circumstances was mightily impressive going; having the spark to pinch a goal in the midst of it reflected that this was not merely a backs-to-the-wall operation.

As mentioned, it’s not the sort of output I’m used to seeing from our lot, but I suppose that’s what you get in a brave new era. Either way, it’s yet another of those irksome tests, passed yet again with flying colours, and it all does really make one wonder quite which replica shirt to don on 20th May.

Categories
Spurs match reports

Fulham 1-1 Spurs: Two Tottenham Talking Points

1. Ange’s Selection

You’ll be pretty relieved to hear that the drill today at AANP Towers is to err on the side of brevity, what with the need to spend the midweek daylight hours earning the monthly envelope rather than nattering away about our heroes. As such it’s just a couple of the standout points of discussion, but they don’t come much fruitier than what the daring amongst us might term Big Ange’s First Wrong Move.

Hindsight, of course, is always flawless, and it would be pretty easy to clear the throat and spend a goodish amount of time chirping away about how ill-considered was Our Glorious Leader’s choice of personnel in the aftermath of last night’s limp old showing. But I can at least look my fellow lilywhite in the eye and state with all sincerity that AANP has never bought into this business of mass changes in personnel. Never liked it at international level, don’t like it at club level. In fact, search long enough and you’ll find one or two souls who received a bit of a lecture from me making this point immediately before kick-off.

The principal objection is that for a fringe player to take a deep breath and deliver a performance that has the paying public rising to their feet and strewing the place with garlands, he really needs those around him to be regulars in their roles. Put another way, if we want to see what young Skipp is made of, then throw him in alongside two of Sarr, Maddison and Bissouma, rather than instead of. Or to get the real lowdown on Manor Solomon on the right of attack, make sure that the usual suspects are patrolling that flank alongside him. And so on. The principle generally applies across the team, and as mentioned, can be mimicked in national colours – if for example one wants to assess the cut of Ivan Toney’s jib in attack, or gauge the ticks and crosses of Trent in midfield, one keeps all (or most) other things equal, and lets them off the leash amongst established company.

This business of changing nine of the eleven, by contrast, generates precious few useful insights. They can be the best players around, but if they’re all new to their surroundings then they all rather stumble around the place in pretty rudderless fashion, not quite knowing who’s in charge and at what precise hour to unleash hell.

As it happens, I rather fancy that a Skipp-Hojbjerg-Lo Celso triumvirate would, after a few weeks of working together, function well enough to hold their own quite competently against someone like Fulham. But it would be a dickens of an ask to expect them to start purring from Minute 1 of their first appearance together. And the odds lengthen considerably when ahead of them they have Perisic and Solomon making their first starts, and behind them four more fresh faces out of five.

AANP would much rather have seen one of two of the usual midfield three in situ, and similarly one change in each of the defence and attack. The flow would not have been too wildly disrupted, and those brought in would have enjoyed more becoming conditions in which to peddle their wares.

The counter-argument, of course, is that Maddison and Bissouma in particular are the sort of fellows whose health and wellbeing for the bigger pond of the Premier League is just too bally important to go frittering away in the Carabao Cup. And one certainly understands the point. It is loaded with merit. Should Maddison have bounded around from the off and then twisted a limb at a right-angle half an hour in, a few pitchforks would have been grabbed amongst the faithful without too much delay.

Nevertheless, some sort of balancing act ought to have been achievable without too much strain upon the grey cells. Much like I understand is the case with the Royal Family, one wouldn’t shove the whole lot of them aboard the same aircraft – but that doesn’t mean forbidding any of them from flying at all. Which is to say, perhaps Maddison could have been rested, but Sarr and Bissouma started; Romero wrapped up with slippers and a bourbon while at least two of the other defensive three were readied for action. After all, playing twice in a week, once in a while, ought not to be too much of a stretch for these fine young specimens.

However, Our Glorious Leader presumably had his reasons. For a start he would have expected, reasonably enough, that even if they did resemble a bunch of strangers speaking in differing tongues, the eleven selected would at least each show the individual acumen to win their own individual battles and make more of a fist of things than they did in the first half in particular.

He might also have seen this as a rare chance to give as many as possible of his troops as close to 90 minutes as possible, there being limited opportunity for this sort of thing in the coming weeks without the benefit of European jollies. And with the transfer window looming rather awkwardly over proceedings, he might have considered this whole exercise a necessary precursor to a spot of September 1st culling.

Whatever the reasons, the dice has been cast, recorded and put back in its box now, so there’s no turning back. In truth it’s not really too great a blow, and frankly I struggle even to pretend to be particularly upset; but it is a dashed shame to toss away quite so casually a fairly straightforward opportunity to challenge for a trophy.

2. Richarlison

On the bright side, at least Richarlison pocketed some winnings. Considerably assisted though he might have been by the curious incident of the Fulham bobbie whose absence was temporarily enforced by a boot in a state of disrepair, one does not shrug off gift-horses when they rumble into view. One does instead precisely what Richarlison did, and loop a header back across the goalkeeper and into the net.

At kick-off, the list of wants from this fixture was pretty short and free of frills. Win the thing; have one or two of the reserves catch the eye; and by hook, crook or a penalty rustle up a goal for Richarlison. And one out of three will have to do.

It’s a good job that the wish-list did not extend to Richarlison delivering an all-round performance that blew the minds of all in attendance, because once again he stomped around the place looking like he didn’t quite belong. No shortage of effort, but whatever he tried, be it linking up the play or racing onto forward balls, it didn’t really work.

Even after his goal, which I rather bobbishly expected to stuff the lad full to bursting with confidence and brio, he continued to bump into others and generally bang the old loaf against a brick wall. For what it’s worth, I remain happy to keep giving him time, and remain confident that the goals will at least trickle, if not flow; and more to the point Big Ange seems similarly inclined, at least until such time as another striker worthy of the name is yanked into the building. Nevertheless, his overall performance was a bit of a non-event, punctuated by one isolated cause for cheer. Rather summed up the whole thing, what?

Categories
Spurs match reports

Spurs 2-0 Man Utd: Six Tottenham Talking Points

1. Sarr

Not to be uncharitable to Oliver Skipp – as honest a bean as ever trod the hallowed turf – but when tasked with recalling his contribution to last week’s affair I drew a blank for an uncomfortably long time, before a single word floated to mind: ‘nondescript’.  

The news that young Master Sarr had inherited his berth for this one was therefore met with a raised eyebrow of intrigue in this neck of the woods. Certainly, the mood around these (and, as I understand, many other) parts had been that while Bissouma and Maddison were doing all their respective necessaries, and with flying colours, a job opening was presenting itself for the final part of that midfield triumvirate. Mid-game (last weekend) there had been a few understandable yelps for Lo Celso; give it a few months and the knees will weaken considerably when Bentancur bobs back into view; but I was as curious as the next fellow to see what Sarr might bring.

And to his credit, the young egg brought a decent-sized sackful of the good stuff. Admittedly in the first half hour or so he seemed to be peddling an Oliver Skipp impression – working hard but to little great effect – but for this he could be excused, as Bissouma aside, not too many in lilywhite were having the game of their lives.

Thereafter, however, seemingly struck by the realisation that this stage was actually a pretty good fit for him, he began belting out a few greatest hits. Tackles were won (and as often as not with a spot of additional biff, for meaning), and crisp passes were passed, which meant that he fitted right in with the happy campers all sides of him. That aforementioned triumvirate had a pretty balanced look to it, which might sound like a rather dreary physics experiment but is actually intended as a compliment of the highest order. To Bissouma’s all-action defence-to-attack dribbling, and Maddison’s creativity, one could add decent wedges of energy and intelligence from Sarr.

On top of which he made a difficult finish look pea-shellingly easy. Having already dipped into that well of energy and intelligence to Platt/Scholes/Dele his way into the penalty area at just the right moment, he then managed to keep under control a ball that was both bobbling and moving away from him. Lashed into the net it might have been, but as he swung back the appropriate limb in preparation for his shot, the AANP mortgage was on the ball sailing off into the gods.

Big Ange still seems to be in Test Mode when it comes to identifying the right fit for the starting eleven, but P-M Sarr’s struck me as one heck of an audition for the coming 36 games.

2. Bissouma

As mentioned, however, it was Bissouma and Maddison who again elevated the thing.

Some may have cleared the throat with a spot of indignation at the comparisons to Mousa Dembele being tossed about the place when it comes to Yves Bissouma, but if a fellow is going to collect the ball from his own defenders and then glide past an endless stream of opposing midfielders with little more than a spot of upper-body misdirection, then what else is there to do but draw precisely such comparisons?

A common lament echoing around the walls of AANP Towers last season was that none amongst our midfield number seemed either confident or capable of collecting the ball under pressure, much less shielding it and turning with it and finding nearby chums and whatnot. Close the eyes, and it is not too difficult to conjure up an image of a Skipp, Hojbjerg, Winks or whomever facing their own goal and being bundled out of possession, ensuing catastrophe not far behind.

Bissouma, however, is a different and vastly preferable kettle of fish. Whether receiving the ball just inside his own area or just outside the opposition’s, he seems to exhibit a pretty minimal level of concern either way, and just gets on with the business of dipping a shoulder and easing his way around swinging opposition limbs. It is an absolute joy to behold. Presumably there will come times when this approach backfires and Bissouma comes to look something of a chump, but frankly he is already amassing a decent wodge of credit in the bank.

The newly-signed misfit of last season is unrecognisable. If he really were unable to master Conte’s tactics, then I rather scorn the tactics and the man who oversaw them, because Bissouma has twice in a week looked comfortably the best player on the pitch.

3. Maddison


And Maddison was not far behind him. At times in the first half, and then regularly in the second, he seemed to delight in first demanding the ball and then strutting around with the thing once it had been sent his way.

Nor was it just for show. Be it a pass or a dribble, Maddison seemed pretty adept at picking an option that caused a fair amount of consternation – or blind panic – amongst the United bods. He may not have scored or created a goal today, but his contribution was considerable, not least in that glorious period after half-time when our heroes really had the other lot against the ropes and gave them a good old-fashioned pummelling.

I particularly enjoyed seeing Maddison share a midfield with one Christian Eriksen, the last creative spark to bound about the place. A regular grumble about the latter was that he was a bit too polite about things when in lilywhite, happy to let others grab the mic as it were, while he sidled off into the background.

By contrast, Maddison seems always to be popping up about the place demanding to be involved. I suppose strictly speaking his official position is on the left-ish side of the centre, but the net result seems to be that if the ball is in play then he is merrily bobbing towards it, happy to take on the responsibility of pulling a few of the key strings.

4. Porro

Not that it was all a bed of roses in midfield. As well as Sarr, the other tweak from last week’s line-up was Porro for Emerson, in that right-back-cum-who-the-hell-knows role. It was not Master P.P.’s finest hour and a half. That whole collect-the-ball-on-the-half-turn-outside-one’s-own-area gambit may look a whizz when Yves Bissouma casually unveils it, but Porro’s attempts were rather more on the ham-fisted side of things. Whether it was lack of technique, lack of awareness or lack of eyes in the back of his head, it soon became evident that popping the ball to Porro outside our area was a manoeuvre absolutely dripping in risk.

In truth I felt rather sorry for the young nib. I mean, there he was brought to these shores under the beady eye of one chappie, who then exploded in rage and biffed off, to be replaced by another chappie with vastly different ideas about the way of things. Because lest we forget, Porro was beginning to demonstrate himself to be one of the better wing-backs about the place. Play a vaguely conventional system, and ask him to bomb up the right flank, and he’s your man. Be it crosses, cute passes or pretty lethal finishing, his final third armoury was well-stocked.

And instead, he’s now being asked to tuck inside and spend a goodish amount of time pretending to be three-fifths of a defensive midfielder. As with Emerson last week, he seems to be a fairly capable square peg being asked to rearrange the features in order to squeeze into a round hole. Porro, like Emerson, is pretty decent at what he does best, but this system seems to ask him to do something rather different.

5. Vicario

A successful afternoon’s work for young Signor Vicario. Opinions ranged a bit last week – I was rather taken by his calmness on the ball; others seemed to resent being driven to the brink of coronary failure by it – but this time around we can probably agree that, like or loathe the approach, he did not put too many feet wrong.

His presence certainly adds a pretty natty line of operation to our defensive setup. Whereas in the days of Lloris, on seeing our lot attempt to play out from the back the anthem on the AANP lips was typically some variant of “Just clear the bally thing, dash it,” nowadays I watch on with a curiosity bordering on admiration.

Vicario seems awfully comfortable in possession. Heck, I rather fancy that if necessary he could do a better job than Porro in that spot just outside the penalty area. Well maybe not, but you get the gist. Picking a pass from within the six-yard box seems to be just another unspectacular part of the day-job for the fellow. This brave new era will certainly take a bit of getting used to, but having a goalkeeper as available for a spot of keep-ball as any of the outfield mob certainly makes things a few notches easier.

Vicario also had a handful of saves to make, many of which were straight down his gullet, but one or two of which involved a spot of the old spring-heeled action. And again, say what you want about the aesthetics of it all, but he did precisely what was required in each instance. For all the leaping around in the latter stages, I personally thought that his low block in the early moments, when dashing off his line to face Rashford, was the pick of the bunch.

Still too early to opine wisely either way, but this at least was reassuring stuff.

6. Ange-Ball

So another day, and another triumph for Ange-Ball. Not just in terms of the result, but very much in terms of the performance too. As with last week, and the various pre-season jaunts, this was something that brought the joy back to watching our lot.

The usual caveats apply – we might have been well behind before we really got the hang of the thing; the whizzy football was produced in fits and starts; Richarlison still seems to be playing the wrong sport – but this was often marvellous stuff to take in.

Worth bearing in mind too that we are, in patches, purring away after only about six or seven weeks of the new regime. The draw last week was against a side that has had a settled and organised way of doing things for a season; the win today against a Top Four team whose manager has been in situ for over a year. Frankly, the thought of where our lot might be after a year of Ange makes me rather giddy.

Oddly enough, one of the moments that really left its mark over in this corner of the interweb came from the size nines of Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, a chap who has generally been shovelled well off into the background since Our Glorious Leader came rumbling into view (to the extent that this might have been his final appearance in lilywhite, Atletico-infused rumours doing the rounds).

In the dying embers, Hojbjerg, having been brought on to wise-old-head the game to its conclusion, popped up in a right-back sort of spot – and I mean a conventional right-back spot, rather than the new-fangled midfield-ish one. From out of nowhere, Hojbjerg produced a rather thrilling turn to leave his man groping at thin air, and for a moment he seemed to be away. The pitch opened up ahead of him; momentum suddenly shifted onto the front-foot; that opponent was still groping away in the wrong direction. Opportunity knocked.

But Hojbjerg, being Hojbjerg, responded to this new and exciting possibility by picking the option that I suppose made him so undroppable under Jose and Conte, and put his foot on the ball before spinning around and passing the damn thing backwards. And one understands – the game was almost won and the lead well established, so playing it safe would bring its reward.

But the whole episode jarred rather, precisely because it was so out of keeping with the 180 minutes of Ange-Ball we have witnessed to date. This current Tottenham vintage turns its man and doesn’t look back, but puts its head down and races forward, or at the very least pings off a pass in a northerly direction for some well-intentioned colleague to do the racing forward instead. Watching Hojbjerg default to safety-first seemed to ram home the fact that he was one of the last of the old era, while all around him were Bissoumas and Maddisons and the like, for whom receiving the ball was basically a prompt to go wandering off on the attack.

All a rather long-winded way of saying that this newly-adopted style is absolutely ripping stuff, nascent and rough around the edges though it might be, and I for one cannot wait for the next instalment.  

Categories
Spurs match reports

Brentford 2-2 Spurs: Seven Tottenham Talking Points

1. Vicario

Beginning geographically, and our newest custodian actually began his lilywhite career by making a solid pig’s ear of things, with a pass firmly planted off into the stands. Thereafter, however, Vicario certainly gave the impression of being well fitted by Nature for life with the ball at his feet. In fact, at times he came across as one of those chappies in a 5-a-side team who takes their stint in goal only because they absolutely have to, but is far happier outfield and will make the point by regularly straying out of their area to join in the keep-ball.

And in that respect I thought he ticked along nicely. Easy to forget, but in recent years we’ve been treated to the sight of Lloris’ brain appearing to melt every time he had to deal with the ball at his feet. Vicario by contrast was pretty laid-back about ball-on-turf matters.

I must admit that the sight of him casually stroking the ball to a chum on our penalty spot quickened the old pulse a dashed sight more than is ideal on a Sunday afternoon, but he seemed to consider it all a bit of a non-event and just kept doing it. And since nobody around him demurred, and given that it was also entirely in keeping with the broader Ange-ball approach, I fairly quickly became a fully paid-up signatory.

In other respects there were limited grounds for wild and premature over-reactions. He had no chance with either goal; claimed the occasional cross; and pootled off on one ill-advised little wander late one, which on another day might have resulted in another penalty. But by and large he kept his head down and amused himself by milking every opportunity to play the ball with his feet.

2. Van de Ven and Udogie On the Left

A nervous eyebrow was raised pre-match at the sight of both of Messrs VDV ^Udogie stationed across the left side of our back four. Not to cast aspersions on their characters or abilities of course, or to question the impeccable judgement of our newest grand fromage, but still. Throwing in one fellow for his first taste of life in a Spurs defence does prompt the sharp intake of breath and silent prayer – and, frankly, carries the risk of traumatising the young nib in question – but one generally reassures oneself by looking along the line at more experienced bods east and west.

To have two such new faces stationed at the back suggested that Ange either brimmed with confidence in the abilities of both, or was happy to play pretty fast and loose with our back-line.

Mercifully, it proved a pretty inspired call. Van de Ven came across as one of those chaps who knew where and when a crisis might brew and his services be required, and conscientiously galloped off to the appropriate coordinates on schedule. He was pretty unfortunate to pop the ball into his own net, but that deflection aside his touch looked pretty assured, and the fabled burst of pace was in good working order throughout.

Young Master Udogie was even more impressive. I’m glad that he rather than I was asked to bob about the place as an ‘inverted full-back’, because the concept makes my head swim a goodish bit, but he seemed pretty up-to-speed with the T’s and C’s of the deal. It seemed a nifty concept, allowing for an extra body in attack, and Udogie did it well; but crucially also had the good sense to keep an eye on his defensive duties at all times. He is evidently the sort of johnnie who takes the defensive stuff pretty seriously too, as witnessed by some robust thou-shalt-not-pass stuff at various points in the second half in particular.

When one realises that the main defensive lapses had their genesis on our right side, one appreciates all the more the efforts of VDV and Udogie, the contrast between this pair on the left and the Emerson-Sanchez axis on the right being noticeable.

3. Bissouma

Possibly foremost amongst a healthy selection of positives were the works and deeds throughout of one Yves Bissouma. After some pretty underwhelming stuff from him last season, this felt a lot more like the laddie about whom we all raved and back-slapped last summer when he first pitched up at the door.

In fact, this actually surpassed what I had been expecting of him last season. To my shame, I had him down as pretty much Destroyer of Opposing Bright Ideas, and little else. Mark my surprise, then, when I realised as today’s frolics unfolded, that the fellow is actually also an impish master of the Fleet-Footed Skip Around Attempted Opposing Challenges. Put another way, I assumed Bissouma’s trademark would be his tackling; I was ill-prepared for adeptness also in the field of dribbling.

And yet, with a dip of the shoulder and a spot of close control, he could often be spotted weaving his way forward past a challenge or two before handing the mic over to a nearby chum to clear their throat and hammer out a line of their own. I’ll whisper it, and qualify it as dreadfully early to say such things, but it even reminded me of the way one Mousa Dembele would transfer matters from his own half to the opposition’s, leaving bystanders to do little more than flap at him.

With Maddison (more on whom below) alongside – or, rather – further forward to receive Bissouma’s produce, the midfield actually began to glisten a bit, a million miles from the drudgery of last year. Give everyone a bit of time to get used to the new way of things, and then throw in Bentancur in a few months, and this really could be mouth-watering stuff.

4. Maddison

Maddison was another who attracted the approving nod from this quarter. It’s no particular exaggeration to suggest that he is the first creative midfielder we’ve had in our ranks since Eriksen oiled off, but whereas a bête noire of mine about the latter was that he would too often drift on the periphery of matters, Maddison seemed possessed of just the right level of confidence-bordering-on-arrogance to elbow his way into the centre of things and demand possession at every given opportunity.

And once given possession, he peddled a dashed handy line in making things tick. Not all his attempted tricksy diagonals and cute reverse passes necessarily came off, but he tried them throughout, and fed into the overall narrative of our lot as a team with a bit of zip and creativity about us.

He also has a most becoming habit of collecting the ball on the half-turn and leaving a flailing opponent in his rear-view mirror. The progressive shuffle from Bissouma around halfway, to Maddison inside the opponents’ half, and then on again towards Richarlison or Kulusevski or whomever, was pleasing to observe.

On top of which, that free-kick delivery for our opener was as much a joy to behold as it was no doubt fiendishly difficult to defend. Another most useful string to the bow.

5. The Rest of the Midfield (Bundling in Emerson, Son and Kulusevski Here, As Well As Skipp)

However, while Bissouma and Maddison caught the eye, I feel I would be wilfully deceiving to suggest that Skipp reached similar heights. He was certainly there, in the flesh, no doubt about it, and presumably statistics abound to suggest that he completed passes and covered a few miles, but I do struggle to remember contributing much to the overall jamboree. This may be a good thing, I suppose, in a ‘ticking things over’ sort of way. But nevertheless, as he departed the scene, the words ‘Hojbjerg Tribute Act’ rather cruelly sprang to mind.

The other questionable element in midfield was Emerson Royal. I use the term ‘midfield’ a little loosely, but you get my drift – part of the new whizzy set-up evidently involves the right-back shuffling into a deep-lying central midfield sort of area, and one understands the logic. Credit to the chap also, for daring to take a shot, a strategy that most of his chums seemed to regard often with suspicion and at times a deep-rooted aversion.

But nevertheless, if we are to stick an extra body in midfield, I would vote in future for someone a bit cannier on the ball than Emerson. Put bluntly, Trent he is not.

Moreover, for all the modern tweaking to his roles and responsibilities, Emerson’s job title remains ‘Right-Back’, and in this respect he was far from flawless, not least in allowing the equaliser (and very nearly a third on the stroke of half-time).

And one further, slightly deleterious consequence of the new-fangled formation is that it struck me as slightly limiting the contributions of Messrs Son and Kulusevski. I suppose they might just have had subdued days, or not quite grasped the intricacies of their respective roles, but both seemed a little marooned out wide, and either reluctant to or forbidden from venturing into more central areas. One about which our newest Glorious Leader can give the chin a few further strokes, perhaps.  

6. Richarlison

A brief note on poor old Richarlison, who will no doubt be eternally damned by some for the crime of not being Harry Kane.

I suspect even his most ardent fans would admit that his afternoon’s work was fairly unspectacular stuff. He had perhaps two chances, neither of which were entirely straightforward, and neither of which he made the most of. In truth it seemed to me that for all their willing and endeavour, those around him did not quite know how best to service the chap, and, as a result, for all his huff and puff there was little chance of him blowing anything down in a hurry.

A slightly more developed understanding between Richarlison and the other 10 will presumably evolve in time – and this hits upon a point I was yammering on about to anyone who would listen pre-match, viz. that his dubious stats from Season 22/23 were based on intermittent appearances and rarely in the Number 9 role. To suggest that his limited output last season is down to plain ineptitude would rather overstate things a bit too dramatically.  Given the opportunity this season for a run of matches, in the central striking role he occupies for Brazil, I would have thought there is a good chance he’ll start popping away his opportunities.

Moreover, as my Spurs-supporting chum Dave pointed out, Richarlison’s out-of-possession strengths, specifically in leading the high press, adds an element to our play that we didn’t necessarily have with the last chap leading the line. Specifically, he conjectured that part of the reason we had so much possession and looked the likelier winners, in the second half in particular, was that Richarlison’s beavering meant Brentford’s centre-backs rarely had sufficient time to play the ball out.

7. Ange-Ball

AANP’s pre-match prediction had been “4-3, to whom I’m not sure,” and if that were a tad fanciful I was pretty satisfied nevertheless with what I witnessed. There’s the obvious caveat that we didn’t actually win the bally thing, and to emerge with a draw despite having dominated a lot of possession hardly screams a successful day out; but that I grudgingly accept a draw away to a proven and settled Brentford side already seems an improvement on last season’s (and indeed the previous seasons’) drudgery.

For a start, this was vastly more fun to watch than the previous seasons’ fare. Whichever member of our gang was in possession today was pretty intent on finding a short pass as a matter of urgency. While this led to a few comical exchanges of multiple short-distance one-twos, overall the effect was most pleasing upon the eye. Unlike in previous seasons, those in our colours seemed pretty clear on the game-plan.

Understanding between those on the pitch will presumably take some time to develop, but whereas in previous seasons the poor blighter in possession would often give his arms a flap and spend a good five seconds searching for an option before spinning around and blooting the dashed thing south, today the default was to venture north, and passing options abounded.

There are, naturally, plenty of areas for improvement – as mentioned earlier we were rather shot-shy; Sonny and Kulusevski seem a tad forlorn; right-back remains a slightly squiffy issue; and so on – but here at AANP Towers this certainly felt like a pretty sizeable breath of fresh air, and a marked change from and improvement upon what had gone before.  

Categories
Spurs match reports

Leeds 1-4 Spurs: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Kane

This seems as good a time as any to stand to attention and offer a pretty meaningful salute to our finest. As if anyone needed reminding quite what a different plane it is on which Harry Kane operates, he belted in our opener with his first kick of the game, pretty much by way of a warm-up. Thereafter, I thought he beetled around hither and thither, in rather an understated way, popping up occasionally to inject a bit of impetus whenever we needed it.

He gave the impression that, having stumbled upon the general midfield vicinity almost inadvertently, he enjoyed himself enough to set up camp in the area, occasionally surfacing to join in with the lesser mortals and chivvy things along.

It worked out splendidly. Whenever the ball bounced off our defence and out towards halfway, Kane was happy to collect the scraps, wriggle free of surrounding limbs as necessary, and ping a pass off into the wide open for spaces for Sonny or whomever to gallop off after.

Leeds, for all their bluster, were amongst the worst we’ve played this season – which makes sense, when you think about it – meaning that the biggest impediment to Kane, as to most of our lot, was that pitch. Not that Kane let it get to him. I’m not sure it could have bothered him less if he had been one of those royal horticulturalists who knows every blade on their lawn inside out. The ground being bobblesome, Kane simply took to lofting his passes through the atmosphere, bypassing the middle man, as it were.

The piece de resistance of his performance came at the halfway stage. And when you consider that on a day on which he scored twice his highlight was something else altogether, you know it was something pretty special. As ever, he received the thing back to goal and somewhere near the halfway line, the sort of situation in which even the Leeds mob, dreadful though their day had been from start to finish, would not have had the alarms bell ringing with any great fervour.

Kane, however, was in that Magic-Something-From-Nothing mood, and having flicked the ball back over his own head, in a pleasing homage to Gazza at Euro 96, he gave the ref a polite shove from his path and set off towards goal. Leeds duly dispatched two of their finest to put an end to Kane’s rampage, and this pair reasonably enough decided that squishing the fellow between their combined frames would do the trick; but Kane was having none of it. As is often the case when he builds up a head of steam, he opted for brute force over any semblance of finesse to surmount this particular obstacle, and simply shoved his way between the two of them like an irate bear.

That done, the attack was still really only at ‘Promising’ level, there being a far bit of legwork left before we got to the really salacious stuff, but Kane didn’t hang around. At this juncture admittedly he received a fairly thick wedge of assistance from the admiring gods, as his attempted pass inside the centre-back – which really would have made the eyes water if successful – bounced off the legs of the latest in a whole queue of hapless Leeds defenders, and kindly for Porro to do the rest.

It was the manner in which Kane received the ball on halfway, however – it bouncing and he with back to goal – and turned it, lickety-split and via two opponents, into an attack bursting at the gills with promise, that really took the puff.

There then followed his 30th goal of the season, made to look straightforward even though Richarlison ten minutes later would bungle a near-identical opportunity, but by this stage one simply took the chap for granted.

Which is a point worth pausing at and hammering on about for a while – he is rather taken for granted. As in that season in which he won both the Golden Boot and whichever object is doled out for most assists, and yet somehow didn’t win a Player of the Year trinket, so this year his 30 league goals, in a team as bad as ours (and having rather gone through the ringer of a World Cup-induced blow to the solar plexus halfway through) has simply been shrugged off, seemingly on the grounds that “It’s Harry Kane, what did anyone expect?” Which is a dashed sight less than he deserves.

As to whether he will still be lighting up our days and nights come August and beyond, the AANP tuppence worth is that I can’t really imagine a universe in which Levy simply shrugs and agrees to sell the fellow this summer, no matter how much Kane might want it.  

In terms of mooching off elsewhere, the Man Utd link makes little sense to me, given that they sure as heck won’t win the Premier League, and seem a pretty long shot for the Champions League. If he wants an FA or Carabao Cup, he might as well stick around in N17; but frankly a ’legacy’ at our lot would seem to be worth more than either of those trophies. I’d have thought Chelsea or possibly Newcastle (pending great big sackfuls of transfer cash being flung around) would therefore be likelier destinations than Man U, if he wants to win the meaty trophies – but who’s to say quite how the cogs whir from the Kane neck upwards?

2. Bissouma

Back to the match, and as mentioned, Leeds’ resistance seemed to be token at best. It’s rather easy to damn our lot by suggesting that the opposition weren’t up to the job, and I should probably slap on another lashing or two of praise, because pre-match I sure as heck was resigned to our heroes wilting in the face of a team needing a win to survive. A hammering by a team in the very act of getting relegated would have seemed the perfect coda to Season 22/23, what?

So credit to our lot, principally for dealing with the barrage of crosses and throws repeatedly hurled towards the frame, but also for having the good sense to transfer documents from back to front faster than a Leeds player could mutter “Dash it, we don’t have enough bodies to stop a counter-attack”.

If Kane was pivotal in the countering, I thought Bissouma excelled in the more studious role in midfield, of collecting possession, hopping away from a swinging leg and spreading the play this way and that. He had a remarkable ability to do the above in a most unflustered manner, which had the benefit of puncturing any atmosphere or urgency our hosts attempted to manufacture, whilst also lending to our play a calmness that has been a pretty rarely-sighted beast this season. It wasn’t flawless, but it was certainly encouraging.

At one point a nearby chum, while watching Bissouma skate away serenely, murmured something about Mousa Dembele, and while all sorts of caveats abound when invoking this sort of name, and it would be remiss to take such musings seriously, one roughly got the gist. There is something in Bissouma’s size nines that lends a certain optimism to the piece.

3. Lucas Moura

It feels like the Lucas Moura Farewell Tour has been trundling along for a goodish while now – which actually stands to reason, as he announced he was off a good few months back, since when every sighting of him has been accompanied by a brief eulogy, on top of which he was last week given a chance to wave to the galleries in the home stadium.

Anyway, the final leg of his great send-off was actioned in the dying embers yesterday afternoon, but by golly, if we thought this would just be a close-up of him entering the fray and then the toot of the final whistle, we were in for one heck of a shock. One could not have scripted a finale quite like this – something of a running theme for Lucas, come to think of it.

While it is easy to submit to recency bias and get rather carried away on these occasions, even 24 hours later that goal strikes me as one of the best individual efforts I’ve seen from one of our number. While not being of the occasion of Villa ’81 or Lucas himself vs Ajax, for sheer aesthetic delight it was right up there alongside Ginola at Barnsley, and close to Sonny vs Burnley. (A doff of the cap at this point to Gareth Bale, who has literally about half a dozen solo efforts to his name in lilywhite.)

Back to the goal itself, and even on repeat watchings it had a rather mesmeric unpredictability about it. On each re-watch Lucas somehow seemed to leap off in an unexpected direction at every point in his journey, all the while retaining complete balance and control of the ball.

First Leeds chappie slid in to chop him at the knees? Nothing he couldn’t hurdle. Three more Leeds blighters try to converge on him at once? Nothing through which he couldn’t slalom. Goalkeeper flinging six feet plus of muscle at his feet? Nothing over which he couldn’t dink.

Of course, this being AANP Towers, I couldn’t drink in this goal of perfect execution and timing without giving tongue to a grumble or two, so I don’t mind admitting a spot of bitterness that we didn’t see this more often from the chap. He tried it pretty much every time he received the ball in the entirety of his five years with us – and as yesterday showed, he’s been capable of pulling it off all along – yet I can only remember it working previously away at Man Utd. Blighter.

Anyway, a marvellous way for Lucas to ride off into the sunset, a little cherry on top of a career that is already permanently etched into Spurs folklore (and, cough cough, a second instalment of Spurs’ Cult Heroes).

4. Farewell Season 22/23

More broadly, it was actually a completely inappropriate way for our lot to sign off for the season. Some ignominious thrashing would have been more in keeping with the general fashion, but nothing lifts the mood around these parts quite like a Tottenham win, so I drank it all in as giddily as ever. It may only have been Leeds, but as mentioned above, we might also easily have folded, as we often do, so to see this level of verve and creativity about the place was quite the tonic.

Looking ahead, the mood amongst just about every lilywhite I know is one of absolutely doleful pessimism; understandable of course, but the AANP lineage has never really gone in for such negativity, and isn’t about to start now.

A few new signings are undoubtedly needed – only one of yesterday’s back-four ought to start for us ever again, and another day sans Messrs Dier and Hojbjerg stirred no sense of longing from this quarter – but there are a handful amongst our number, both on display yesterday and propping up the stools in the treatment room, who might inject a bit of life into the old beast yet.

Moreover, enough teams around (and above) us that have demonstrated that even with deadwood floating amongst the ranks, a spot of organisation and freedom can bring home a bit of a harvest.

The absence of midweek traipses around the continent will help. And frankly performances (both individually and collectively) like yesterday’s suggest that with a spot of pruning, and a few well-judged additions, we would have at least a nucleus of a side with a beady eye on the Top Four. All that remains is to bring in a manager of sound mind – and front-foot style – and Season 23/24 practically takes care of itself, what?




Categories
Spurs match reports

Spurs 1-3 Brentford: Three Tottenham Talking Points

1. That Rather Enjoyable First Half

Say what you like about young Mason – and this particular pen has scribbled a few choice descriptions in recent weeks – but when it comes to binning what went before and trying something completely novel, he is not lacking in pluck and vim. Where Conte would stick to 3-4-3 even if his life depended on some minute alteration, Mason scatters around new approaches like confetti. Having flirted with some distant cousin of 4-4-2 in recent weeks, yesterday he made a pretty abrupt pivot off into the land of 4-2-3-1, earning an admiring glance from AANP Towers in the process.

And for 45 minutes, the thing operation tootled along pretty swimmingly. More goals would have helped of course, particularly if you are the sort who assesses these things with rather dead-eyed steeliness, caring only for wins won, no matter the fashion in which they are achieved (or, in other words, if your name is Jose or Antonio).

But for those of us who would have gladly donated a liver just to see some entertaining football at some point over the last three years dash it, that we only scored one goal was a pretty incidental footnote. The real headline was that there was genuinely enjoyable football on show.

No doubt Brentford played into our hands in that first half. They seemed as surprised as anyone else to see our lot take to the field with four fully functioning attackers primed and ready, and could regularly be sighted scampering back into position with looks of concern etched all over their maps, repeatedly undermanned whenever our heroes counter-attacked.

Members of our attacking quartet at various points took turns to station themselves in cunning pockets of space that seemed to fall under the jurisdiction of neither the Brentford defence or midfield, and also took to gaily swapping positions, looking for all the world as if this football business could actually be rather a lark, which is a pretty rare sight around these parts.

Moreover, once in possession, we positively brimmed with exciting and innovative ideas about how to jig all the way into the penalty area in order to get shots away. There were crosses, and one-twos, and AANP’s personal favourite, the neat diagonal passes played inside a defender. That our only goal was from a free-kick was rather a curiosity, because Sonny, Danjuma and even Emerson Royal each seemed to come within a well-placed Brentford limb of adding to the tally by virtue of some well-crafted routine during that opening 45. Frankly I didn’t know we had it in us.

2. Bissouma

The front four may have been the principals, but a pretty vital cog in this 4-2-3-1 was the 2, and Messrs Skipp and Bissouma were in imperious form, at least in that first half.

Bissouma carried out his duties with the relish of a fellow who wakes up every morning determined to wring every last ounce of pleasure from his day. Where some might react with a scowl to being told to spend all day tidying up in midfield, Bissouma flipped the thing on its head, treating every crowded coming-together as an opportunity to display his full range of nifty footwork. If Brentford johnnies descended upon him en masse and with nefarious intent, he simply pirouetted out of trouble, as often as not picking some eye-catching pass at the end of it all too, as an unexpected treat.

He threw in his usual needless crunch at one point, earning the standard yellow card that seems to accompany his every appearance in lilywhite, but that aside, he generally made the grubby job of midfield guard-dog look a lot more glamorous and elegant than one would have thought possible. As with much else on display in that first half, it gave a bit of a whiff of a potentially brighter future around these parts, if the right sort of bean can come along and make a fist of the old wheat-chaff separation routine.

3: Skipp

Young Skipp, while perhaps not quite as easy upon the eye, was also doing a heck of a job fighting the good fight within that deep-lying midfield pair. If it were Bissouma’s job to tiptoe out of increasingly complex situations and ever-diminishing spaces, Skipp’s role seemed to be simply to hunt down loose balls wherever they happened to spring up.

The young whelp’s motivation appeared in no way dimmed by his billing as the less refined of the pair, he seeming to be all in favour of spending his afternoon racing off to win the thing over and over again. Young Skipp also appeared to be blessed with a decent sense of dramatic timing, typically leaving his interventions until the last possible moment before haring in from distance to nick the ball away, amidst a flailing opposition leg.

It will no doubt go under the radar, but on one such occasion, having rolled out his nick-of-time routine to win a 50-50, he was dumped to the floor by an opponent by way of reward, bringing about the free-kick from which we scored. Kane might have hit the thing, Davies might have shoved the laddie aside in the wall; but Skipp earned the opportunity in the first place.

A shame, then, that his eagerness to show a spot of initiative later on went pretty seriously awry, resulting in the Brentford third. Skipp’s intent in this incident had been pretty wholesome, collecting a throw-in deep inside his own half, with a view, no doubt, to setting in motion some campaign for an equaliser. However, he got off to a poor start, taking his eye off the package and letting it bobble past him, which rather set the tone for how the whole incident would play out. While his attempt to bring the situation back under control by means of a spot of wriggling and opponent-dodging was laudable in theory, it met with some pretty significant obstacles in practice – not least being shoved to the ground and having his belongings pilfered from him.

Not his finest hour, but it says much of Skipp’s general attitude and contribution that there were not too many irate fingers wagging in his direction. “Accidents will happen,” seemed to be the gist of the reaction, on realising the identity of the culprit on this occasion. Young Skipp has a fair amount of credit in the bank. Our multitude of woes over the course of this season have many roots, but the efforts of O. Skipp Esq. is not among them.

4. Davies and Lenglet

By contrast, Messrs Davies and Lenglet do not get off so lightly. Even in the first half, in which, thanks to the efforts of those positioned north of them, they were not too onerously employed, they still seemed to make rather a production of the fairly menial tasks thrown their way. However, being swept along by the general gaiety of the occasion one brushed it aside.

There was no brushing it aside in the second half however, as that well-earned one-nil lead became a two-one deficit without Brentford having to do much more than wander into our penalty area and peer about the place, thanks to the idiotic bumblings of Davies and Lenglet.

That the equaliser should have been allowed to happen still makes the blood boil, a good twenty-four hours and more after the event. Brentford dully wibbled the ball from somewhere vaguely left to somewhere vaguely right, and with two defenders and a goalkeeper barring the path to goal, an immediate equaliser ought to have been one of the lowest-ranked of likely outcomes. That some danger was imminent was not in doubt, for the chappie was in our area, and behind the scenes various of our party could be seen scuttling to and fro to prevent any harm occurring once the ball was passed along and Stage Two of the operation got underway. But any immediate shot seemed to carry minimal threat.

And yet somehow, Davies and Lenglet, intent on a programme of utterly passive non-interference, contrived not only to allow that Mbuemo to have a shot, but between them constructed the flimsiest conceivable barrier. Had Mbuemo struck the thing like an Exocet, or had he shimmied and tricked until they lost their footing, one might have held up the hands and done him some homage. But the blighter did none of the above. Frankly, I’ve seen passes hit with more ferocity than his shot. And yet Davies and Lenglet backed off him as if he brandished a machete, and then somehow allowed his shot a route through all four of their combined legs.

And if any in the paying galleries were expecting the following minutes to bring a display of contrition and redemption from this combo they were in for the sort of disappointment for which only a season of this dross can really prepare the soul. As Mbeumo was released for his second, he and Davies were neck and neck in a straightforward sprint for the ball. Mbuemo arguably had the advantage, already being well in his stride, but nevertheless one would have anticipated Davies having sufficient pace to keep within clattering distance of him, or at the very least manoeuvring his frame in that cunning way of the wiliest old devils, blocking off the route of Mbuemo and resulting in a satisfying display of arm-waving frustration. As previously, at the point of release, danger seemed fairly minimal.

Incredibly, however, Davies managed to concede a five-yard gap over a ten-yard sprint. I simply could not believe what I was watching. He moved as if he had hoisted one of his teammates onto his back and then attempted simply to get from A to B without falling over, no matter how long it took him. Anyone convinced that a Premier League footballer, when required to sprint twenty yards, might whir the legs until a hamstring pinged and a lung exploded would have wept in dismay.

I suppose if Davies had been remotely competent then Monsieur Lenglet would not have been dragged into this; but dragged into it he was, and he reacted by unleashing, of all things, his Ben Davies Tribute Act.

Having gawped in disbelief at the sight of Davies running as if through quicksand, the rescue act five yards inside him ran as if with lead in his boots. Moreover, having been gifted an unlikely second chance to intervene, by virtue of Mbuemo pausing – to compose his thoughts, and untangle his feet and whatnot, ahead of his shot – Lenglet then slid in as if to block the shot, but neglected to extend his leg fully. Had he done so, there was a pretty strong chance he might have effected some sort of block; but instead he seemed, when sliding in, to withdraw the limb in question, as if convinced at the last that it would be better simply to avoid interfering and let the Fates decide.

That we lost the thing was not, of course, solely down to the deficiencies of this rotten pair, maddening as they were. In the second half Brentford seemed to exercise a mite more caution in their approach, flinging fewer bodies forward and keeping staff numbers high at the back, a tweak that left our lot completely stumped. As mentioned, they were barely made to work for any of their goals; but as galling was the fact that the footloose and fancy-free approach of the first half was replaced by one of laboured build-up and generally blank looks in the second.

Categories
Spurs match reports Spurs news, rants

Conte (& the Southampton Draw): 5 Tottenham Talking Points

1. Conte’s Rant

I must confess that a good deal of what you might call the specifics of Conte’s rant escaped me. This is certainly not a pop at the fellow’s English, which is a dashed sight better than any other tongue in which I’ve dabbled (when it comes to asking for a cheese sandwich in DuoLingo Spanish, I’m your man; when it comes to discussing the merits or otherwise of my colleagues in a foreign vernacular, I demur to Conte).

But still, this was not one of those systematic jollies, in which each point is clearly labelled and unpacked, leaving the listener in no doubt about the way of things, before moving on to the next item. First listening to his words, and then poring over the transcript, it seemed to me that Conte had about half a dozen different ideas swirling around, and they all oozed out on top of one another.

Nevertheless, one got the loose gist. “Angry man ranting” was the nub of it. Whatever calm and considered plan he might have prepared before strolling out to meet the assembled press, once he had taken his seat and got down to business he seemed not to be able to contain himself. Nor did the passage of time soothe the savage beast, and by the time he had finished ten minutes later the whole thing reminded me of that scene in Predator in which Arnie and chums unleash their heavy artillery and spend a good minute or two of screentime just mowing down every tree in sight.

So while the small print of his frustration was a little mysterious to me, it was pretty clear that one or two things had got up him. Most notably, he seemed at pains to communicate that he was less than entirely enamoured of his beloved players. If I understood him correctly, I also fancy that he aimed a swipe at the board and owners; and for good measure he then veered down a side-road into the theoretical and peeled off a strip or two at the club generally, as an entity. At that point a few questions from my undergrad days about personal identity came swimming back to mind, but they swam off again sharpish.

The underlying feature seemed to be that Conte had just about had enough of the current state of things. And, indeed, the state of things for the past twenty years. So what to make of it all?

2. Conte On The Players

His principal target was the playing personnel, and here he has a point. Whether or not one also drags in the board, the manager or both is pretty racy stuff, but as starting points go this is actually pretty straightforward. That the players repeatedly foul things up on the pitch is difficult to dispute. I doubt there’s a lilywhite in the land who hasn’t at some point this season wanted to grab various of our heroes, give them a pretty violent shake and then smack them across the face with a wet fish.

“Selfish” seemed to be Conte’s word de jour yesterday, but more generally the notions of our lot being unable to cope with pressure and offering little more than half-hearted shrugs in the face of trouble certainly rang true. Far too often this season and for several previous seasons, the players have stunk the place out.

3. Conte On The Board

The board – I think – were next in the firing line, but at this point the mood darkens rather. This seems to be a matter that turns family members against each other, if you follow my thread. Some are ‘yay’, and some are ‘nay’, but everyone seems to voice their point with gusto.

Those who side with the owners can point to the large sacks of cash flung around to bring in such luminaries as Sanchez, Ndombele and Lo Celso in recent years, the argument being that money most categorically has been spent.

More pertinent to the serving monarch, Messrs Kulusevski, Bentancur, Perisic and Porro each seem to have Conte’s personal seal of approval emblazoned across their foreheads. Added to which, Richarlison and Bissouma, whilst each having so far had much about them of the damp squib, nevertheless seemed to receive from the Big Cheese a satisfied nod of approval upon arrival last summer, as if to say, “Precisely the squad member needed for a campaign on several glorious fronts.” Conte, the argument runs, has had his wish-list pretty handsomely indulged.

However, no sooner would the Defence nestle back into its seat than the Prosecution would leap up and start raging that Conte wanted but two things last summer, viz. a right wing-back and left-sided centre-back. On the RWB front he has had to wait half a season for one shiny new Porro to arrive. As for the left centre-back, the whole sorry episode reminds me of that gag from the Good Book, which asks what sort of fellow would hand his lad a stone if he requested bread, or a snake if he requested a fish – both of which suddenly seem pretty rosy deals when compared with receiving Clement Lenglet, when asked for a world-class left centre-back.

A messy old business then. The AANP take is that the players certainly deserve stern words; the culture of the club has indeed been severely lacking in the Winning Mentality department; and that while the board has chipped in with cash it has made various howlers in other areas.

4. Conte Himself

Much of which, however, is for a different day. Following Conte’s tantrum, the burning question at AANP Towers was around the responsibilities of the fellow himself. Shaking an angry fist at the players, for their displays every week for the last year, is all well and good until one remembers that they set foot on the pitch each time with Conte’s own words ringing in their ears. If things have been so bad, what the devil has he done about it himself? Listening to the chap whinge away you would think that he has been barred from speaking to them for the past year.

Conte himself bleated that our lot today are worse than last season, which seems true enough. But given that he is the one running the whole operation it does rather suggest that he ought to have a solid chunk of the responsibility shoved across his shoulders.

To howl about the selected players not being up to the task (or being too “selfish”), whilst resisting any personnel changes as if his life depended upon the same XI, has a bit of a whiff about it. Which is to say nothing of the rigid tactics, or the peculiar reluctance to give things a shake mid-match with a few substitutions.

It is possible that this entire episode was part of the old psychological one-two, aimed at instilling a spot of fire in the bellies of the outraged playing personnel. I suppose I have heard wilder theories in my time.

The drearier conclusion, as pointed out by various more knowledgeable sorts, seems to be that the whole monologue was Conte’s attempt to protect his reputation. That is to say, with pastures new awaiting him, and a sorry end to the season fast looming at N17, it is in Conte’s interests to position the club as beyond saving, the players as empty-headed dullards and the managers – both present and previous – as pretty helpless innocents.

All of which might be true, I suppose. He’s laid it on a bit thick though, what?

5: The Match Itself

After all that – which enfolded, lest we forget, after our heroes had thrown away a two-goal lead in the final fifteen against the divison’s bottom team – to pop back and pick out the positives from the match itself feels a bit like coming home to find the house burnt down, but noting that the sun is shining so it’s not all bad.

Still,  there were some plus points, as Conte’s dearest pals are no doubt reminding him. Pedro Porro looks a handy addition, for a start. I’ve previously given quite the salute to his crossing in the final third, and on Saturday I noted that he also possesses a mightily impressive cross-field diagonal from deep. This was unleashed a couple of times, the first of which had Sonny clean through in the opening moments, and really ought to have brought a richer harvest than a shot so wide it headed out for a throw.

On top of which, Porro showed himself to be fully signed up to this business of wing-backs appearing in the penalty area to try their luck at goal. As well as his actual goal, he treated himself to two other pops from close range, both of which, alas, sailed over. Encouraging stuff though, for the remaining ten matches in which we continue to use wing-backs.

Sonny did little to impress throughout, but his pass to create Porro’s goal was an absolute delight. It got rather lost in the tornado that followed, both on and off the pitch, but his one diagonal seemed to take out literally half the Southampton team in setting Porro free on goal.

The other fellow who caught the beady AANP eye – yet again, it should be noted – was young Master Skipp. There were, admittedly, a couple of errors that might have been more severely punished, and his usual rather harsh yellow card, but otherwise Skipp delivered a near-faultless central midfield display. As often sighted winning possession as picking a pass, he hummed away incessantly, generally taking on life’s grubbier jobs as if thrilled simply to be asked.

So much for the silver linings. Heartening though Skipp and Porro were, the lip I chewed throughout was a pretty dashed frustrated one. At no point in this match did our heroes look to be in control of things – which may be acceptable against PSG, dash it, or even AC Milan, but not against the league’s bottom side. At best, our lot threatened on the counter; but on balance it seemed the slight majority of the game was spent diligently trying to keep Southampton at bay.

Even if this had succeeded, it is a dreadful approach to life against a team in that position. And having got ourselves two goals to the good, all as one dropped deeper and deeper, chanting in unison “Backs to the wall” as more and more defensive sorts were thrown on to give it the old skin-of-the-teeth routine. As such, one understands the manager watching that and then promptly losing his sanity – but if this nonsense is still unfolding after a year and a half of Conte, either he is too dim to notice the problem or not good enough to solve it.