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Leicester 2-4 Spurs: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. Sanchez and Rum Justice

This dreariest of seasons ended with a selection switch entirely in keeping with the utter rot that been on show for the last nine months, as one wet sponge of a defender was replaced by another.

Presumably with an eye on the pace of Jamie Vardy, Our Glorious Leader cunningly scribbled out Eric Dier’s name and scrawled instead ‘Davinson Sanchez’, a move that was swiftly exposed as pretty pointless as Vardy gave Sanchez a couple of yards headstart and still sprinted past him, in earning the first penalty.

(On which point, I hope that Toby does not walk away from this saga without a slap on the wrist, because that backwards-dangled-leg approach that conceded the penalty was an atrocious dereliction of duty.)

Now admittedly a sentient brick would have had more pace than Dier, so one did see the logic of the selection. Alas, Sanchez is blessed with so many other shortcomings that it seemed inevitable that one way or another he would have a grim time of things, and Vardy was pretty merciless in targeting the poor bean.

By and large, here at AANP Towers if there is an opportunity to castigate young Sanchez we do not hang around and wait for the paperwork. Today, however, while it would be a stretch to say my heart bled for the chap, I did feel that he was rather hard done by.

In the first place, one can basically be excused for simply not being as fast in a flat sprint as the next man. One might argue that Sanchez could think about his positioning so as not to be exposed, and so on and so forth; but a pretty forgivable failing. (Certainly vastly more forgivable than Dier’s extensive repertoire of flaws, most notably that of picking a spot in the six yard box and digging in his heels, as opposition strikers dart hither and thither all around him.)

But more to the point, Sanchez was victim to a pretty appalling miscarriage of justice for the second penalty. One tries not to judge Vardy simply because he the Almighty has bestowed upon him the face of one up to no good, but the chap was an absolute blighter for the second penalty, grabbing Sanchez’s arm and yanking it around his own body, before waiting until he was inside the area and executing an arched-back swallow-dive, dash it all. It was stuff so ripe that pantomime villains across the country would have been taking notes.

One understands that at first glance the ref would have been conned; but for VAR to interrupt their snooze and wave the thing on was outrageous. The Sky commentators, wedded to their ‘Plucky Leicester’ narrative, were similarly happy to embrace this outrage, and poor old Sanchez was left with the rum end of the deal. The guy is hardly faultless, but to be chastised for that was a nonsense, and there was a pretty hefty dollop of karma in his challenge on Schmeichel for our second goal being (rightly) allowed. And the Kane handball claim being waved away for our third, come to think of it.

However, with all that said, forget the Kane and Bale chatter: if this is Sanchez’s last appearance in lilywhite I might just clear the immediate area and perform an awkward cartwheel of delight.

2. Kane’s Performance

Given the plotlines that swirl around him presumably much about Kane’s performance will be swept under the nearest carpet, and those paid to voice their opinions will simply point to his goal, maybe his assist and then start carping on about for whom he should play next season (casually ignoring the thee years left on the contract he signed of his own volition, dash it).

However, for those of us concerned to see our lot win the game itself, Kane’s performance until his goal was pretty ragged stuff. Looking for all the world like a chappie with other things on his mind, he seemed oddly intent on dwelling on the ball when he received it, which typically resulted in him being bundled out of the way. On top of which, when he did finally shove it along, he tended to do so in pretty slapdash fashion.

The whole routine had ‘Not One Of His Better Days’ plastered all over it; until, from nowhere, he produced a strike so sweet that it even managed to fly, clean as a whistle, through the legs of the goalkeeper.

Kane’s highlight reel also included him lashing one miles over the bar, the anthem ‘Golden Boot’ no doubt on his lips, when Sonny was better placed for that sort of operation; oddly fluffing his lines when clean through on goal at the end; and then getting away with use of the hand as he almost fluffed his lines again, in setting up Bale.

So a slightly mixed bag of a performance, but as so often it is difficult to look past the quality of his finish for the goal he did actually score.

3. Kane’s Future

The AANP tuppence worth on the fellow’s transfer situation is that in the first place I don’t think much of this business of him trying to engineer a move by way of unsubtle hints and choreographed interviews. If he wants to biff off then he ought to accept that one cannot make an omelette without breaking eggs, and say so in no uncertain terms; and if that eats into his seven years of goodwill in N17 then he’ll have to lug that over his shoulder and live with it.

More to the point, he signed a six-year contract, so there’s not too much sympathy for him in this neck of the interweb. (The secret yearning over here is that Levy folds his arms; we bring in a manager with enough between the ears to steer us into the Top Four next season; and thereafter, Kane or no Kane, good times start rolling again.)

And as a final point, albeit one to chew over rather than anything compelling, while one understands Kane’s howls of despair at not winning any trophies, he might do well to remember that he was front and centre of those second-place finishes, and lost finals and semi-finals. He, as much as – and in fact more than – most others, could have influenced whether or not he toddled off with a winner’s medal or two.

4. Bale’s Charmed Life

As has been his wont, Gareth Bale ambled on in the closing stages to mooch around without breaking sweat, before giving his late-season stats their customary shot in the arm.

The chap is quite the oddity. Were it anyone else sauntering about the place in such languid fashion I suspect we might shout ourselves hoarse in attempting to communicate every curse imaginable; but this being Bale, frankly he receives exemption.

And while Messrs Bergwijn, Lamela, Lucas et al might shoot some hurt glances and mutter about favouritism, the fact is that, even if he contributes little else in any other part of the pitch and during any other part of the game, Bale contributes more goals than one can wave a stick at. The aforementioned B., L. and L. can only dream about the sort of goals return being produced by Bale.

It’s a bizarre trade-off, and makes for pretty unenviable stuff for whichever manager happens to be overseeing things, because as we’ve seen in recent weeks, should the opposition pin us back then Bale joins Dier in the queue of players playing second fiddle to that sentient brick. But frankly, if he can produce a goal or two – call it 1.5 – per game, then some might say it rather seems worth the hassle.

Moreover, the chap has now discovered that the whole trick can be performed from the delayed entry point of substitute, meaning that he can spare himself the ignominy of working up a sweat in the opening seventy minutes or so.

5. Farewell, 20/21

I suppose if today has taught me anything it’s that I’d much rather play in the Europa Conference, whatever the heck it is, than finish below that lot from Woolwich. (And if today taught me a second thing it was that watching a game on Sky with commentary muted , as I did for the final twenty or so, is a surprisingly pleasing experience, but one man’s meat and all that I suppose.)

It’s been an absolute mess of a season, neatly typified, I thought, by the midweek Villa game (scoring early; calamitous defending; minimal effort), has brought about a regression of approximately four years and sent us dangerously close to the pre-Jol days of mid-table obscurity. (Still finished above Woolwich, mind.)

Many Spurs-supporting chums of minehave been moping about the place prophesying doom in a fashion that would have had some of those Old Testament sorts nodding in admiration, and one understands the mindset.

Nevertheless, the mood at AANP Towers is actually rather more upbeat. I remain convinced that, while admittedly some way behind the current Top Four, player for player we are a match for and should be bettering just about everyone else in the league (by which I mean Leicester, West Ham, Woolwich etc), should we hire a manager capable of dragging the current mob into some semblance of shape. No doubt there will be Ins and Outs over the summer, but even looking at the current squad, it hardly seems inconceivable that with some half-competent moulding and coaching they could be outdoing the likes of Leicester, West Ham and whatnot next season.

As ever, my gauge for these players is to ask who would buy them if they were up for sale – and by that metric, we have enough talent in the squad to match the aforementioned mobs outside the Top Four at least. Our squad is lop-sided, the performances are pretty aimless, every dashed one of them looks unfit – but a manager worth his salt ought to have enough to work with.

Not that such ramblings count towards anything, but fingers crossed and all that.

Spurs 2-0 Wolves: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Low-Tempo Stuff

Given that even when the Top Four was realistic our lot hardly dashed about the place with any sense of frenzied urgency, it was perhaps unsurprising that today, with the only available carrot being the slightly wonky, shrivelled one of Europa football (or the even smaller, even more shrivelled one of the Europa Conference, whatever that is), the mood amongst those tasked with doing the necessaries in N17 was set to ‘Leisurely’.

Not that it mattered much, as Wolves had switched off their mood setting entirely, in order to sit on a beach and sip something punchy, but there was a curious gentleness to the way in which we gradually exerted our superiority.

Yes, Kane hit the post in the opening jabs, with the sort of shot out of thin air of which he seems to be the sole licence-holder; and yes, we twice had shots thwacked off the line with the ‘keeper seemingly distracted by the beach-side view; but there was none of that zip about our build-up play that makes the pulse quicken and arrests the attention.

The Sky cameras caught the spirit of the thing by doing their best to not show our opener when it did eventually come, preferring to dwell on their narrative de jour about a man from Sunday league football repeatedly heading away crosses (a plot-line with which they were so obsessed that they pretended it continued long after it had stopped, bizarrely awarding the bean in question the day’s rosette despite him being wildly out of position, and then comically parked on his rear for the first goal; and too slow to get to the rebound for the second: man of the match indeed).

It was not until early in the second half that our lot began showing any appetite for the thing, and we were treated to the first sights of free-flowing football coursing through the veins. Again, probably worth emphasising that nothing beyond third gear was really necessary, but given the talent on display, and the pliant nature of our guests, the first half in particular was oddly muted.

However, it was still comfortably sufficient, and should an eager student ever choose to write an essay on ebbs and flows of this particular match then “Two-Nil” would be a title that captured entirely appropriately the game’s dynamics as well as its scoreline.

2. Dele: Delightful and Exasperating

In terms of the specifics, Dele’s performance was an odd mix of the delightful and exasperating.

In the Debit column, the chap was guilty on a couple of occasions of the sort of carelessness that would have been excoriated by notable former managers who were sticklers for that sort of thing and who, it might be suggested, carried about themselves particularly needless vendettas.

In one instance he gave away a pretty needless free-kick in a dangerous area, via the medium of an unnecessary and pretty unsubtle shove to the back; on another occasion he tried to be rather too cute for his own good inside his own penalty area of all places, giving away possession, when anyone in the Sky commentary box could have advised that simply hacking the ball away to kingdom come would have had him lauded as the game’s standout performer.

One might point out that the nature of the chap’s play means that such errors are simply part and parcel of the whole Dele experience. Here, after all, is an egg who seems to take to heart the anthem “Go out there and express yourself”, generally treating the pitch as his playground and the match as an opportunity to roll out as many party tricks as possible (witness the glorious first half nutmeg).

Mercifully, the Wolves players were too busy admiring the bathing suits of their fellow holiday-makers to do anything with these gifts, but young Dele might do well to give some consideration to the time and the place, when next he dips into his box marked ‘Casual Possession Giveaway’.

More prominently, however, Dele’s attacking instincts came to the fore today. He seemed quite happy to take a prominent role in affairs, availing himself of a pass at every opportunity and stationing himself pretty centrally throughout. The man did not shirk the challenge.

And, without exactly dominating things (that accolade fell upon the Wolves chappie who occasionally cleared a cross, don’t you know) Dele made enough deft contributions to swing the thing.

His role in the odd sequence of post-hitting was impressively delivered. In the first place he won possession in the old-fashioned way, emerging victorious in the often-neglected tangle of legs known as ‘tackling’; and then picked precisely the right moment to play his killer pass. I don’t mind admitting it was a moment that deeply affected me, having spent many of my years of Dele-watching berating him for hanging onto the ball for too long. On this occasion, I bowed in the presence of his greatness. He hung onto the ball for precisely the appropriate amount of time, and then played a perfectly weighted pass – through the opponent’s legs, of course – into the path of Kane. The whole thing deserved a goal; what it got, instead, was two successive shots hitting the two different posts.

And then for our second goal, I was rather impressed by the manner in which Dele first sprayed the ball stage left, for Reguilon to run onto (albeit Reguilon made rather a production of things out there, sliding and scampering and all sorts); and secondly, on receiving the ball back from Reguilon, in picking out Bale. Bale’s shot was then parried, and Hojbjerg completed the routine; but Dele did enough to merit at least a nomination for Best Supporting Actor.

3. Lo Celso’s Deeper Role

Ryan Mason it appears, is not one of those fellows who thinks that the key to life is to dive in and change as many things about it as he can get his hands on. For Mason, the status quo seems to hold a certain charm, and as such, having deployed Lo Celso in a deep-ish role once, he has been happy to extend the experiment a little while longer.

Personally, I am rather enamoured of the role itself and its current occupier. Particularly in a game such as this, something of a free hit given the quality and mentality of the opponent, there is hardly need for multiple defensive types to prowl the midfield looking for fires to put out. The use of Lo Celso then, is primarily forward-thinking, tasked with picking up the ball from the back-line and transferring to the forward-line, with minimum fuss and maximum efficiency.

(It should be noted that, in addition to the forward-looking stuff, Lo Celso does not mind scampering around to win back possession either; he might not necessarily be the most gifted exponent of the more destructive arts, but he knows what’s expected.)

But it was going forward that I rather enjoyed Lo Celso’s mentality. Now, to be clear, I thought this week, as last, he could have done more of it – demanding the ball and making it clear to all in the vicinity that he was the go-to man for these sort of jobs. But nevertheless, his general mentality, of wanting to create whenever he received the ball, went down well at AANP Towers.

As if to illustrate the point, we were then treated to fifteen minutes or so of the slightly dreary alternative, when young Master Winks bounded on to replace Lo Celso, and promptly set about biffing the ball backwards every time it was given to him. Sometimes Lo Celso hit and sometimes he missed, but pretty much every time his first instinct was at least to go forward.

4. Hitting the Woodwork

At one point (at what I am tempted to call a lull in proceedings, but which description does not necessarily narrow down the timeframe), the TV bods flashed up a stat to the effect that our heroes have hit the woodwork more than any other team this season. 23, if my eyes did not deceive.

Pertinent stuff, given that we were treated to this very scenario thrice this afternoon. Now one might wail and lament our ill fortune at this, but the stat did remind me of a moment in my formative years, when on returning from a school football match and receiving an enquiry from my old man, AANP Senior, as to how I got on, I informed him that while I did not score I did at least hit the post. This earnest communique, as I recall, met with a pretty unforgiving eye and the brusque response from the esteemed relative that he would give me credit if I were aiming for the post; and that feedback rather ended the back-and-forth.

It’s a mantra I apply to this day. Hitting the post 23 times is deserving of little credit or sympathy given that the pretty unambiguous aim of the exercise is expressly not to hit the post, but the structure contained therein.

All that said, the little burst of activity that saw Kane and Dele hit the two posts with successive shots did make the head swim a bit and the curses flow. One can only imagine what the kindly folk who neighbour AANP Towers made of the assorted yips and yelps that doubtless emerged from within as the passage of play unfolded.

Mercifully, neither the woodwork nor VAR nor any other excuses needed to be wheeled out on this occasion. A curious game for sure, not least because of the odd passivity of our opponents, but a comfortable win is always a delight.

Leeds 3-1 Spurs: Six Tottenham Talking Points

1. Bale: Worth It?

I suppose you may consider it an odd place to start, when we had Auriers and Diers performing unspeakable acts everywhere you cared to look, but the virtues and vices of Gareth Bale came into pretty sharp focus yesterday. Or, more accurately, the vices came into focus; the virtues were nowhere to be seen.

And in a way, that’s the critical issue surrounding the young bean. Being the assiduous followers of AANP that you are, I’m in no doubt that you’re all too aware that last week, on these very pages, I opined that aside from his hat-trick Bale contributed precious little to the cause. Which is not to denigrate the chap, for I think most of us would accept Hat-Trick-Plus-Nothing-Else as a weekly input from any of troops; it’s more just to state a fact – Bale doesn’t contribute much to our game in general; he doesn’t beaver tirelessly and track back; he doesn’t dictate games; he doesn’t relentlessly torment opponents.

What Bale does is produce goals out of nothing through moments of genius; and it could probably be argued that his very presence on the pitch is also of benefit in terms of scaring the dickens out of opponents for fear of what he might do at any given moment, which is a dashed important metric if you ask me. The psychology of an anguished opposing manager, after all, is not to be sniffed at.

Yesterday, however, there were no moments of genius to be seen, and as a result we were left with those aforementioned vices – the not-contributing-not-beavering-not-dictating and so on. The not-tracking-back element was a particularly sore point, given that it led to the concession of at least one of the goals (and possibly two, they do rather blur). Serge Aurier does not deserve much sympathy for the manner in which he goes about the day-job, but the thought did strike me as he was outnumbered for the umpteenth time yesterday that the humane thing to do would be to at least enquire whether he would like some support as Leeds bodies swarmed all over him. He can be blamed for many things, but not really for failing to be two people at once.

However, Bale did not offer him support; Leeds overlapped whenever they dashed well pleased; and the flip-side of having Bale in the team was exposed in pretty unforgiving manner.

So is he worth it? Is it worth effectively carrying a passenger each game, albeit one who, as last week (and most weeks) is capable of producing a goal or two from nothing? As you might expect from a blog that in its very name endorses the approach of action and waves a dismissive hand at the planning that goes with it, I’m all for Bale’s occasional moments of magic, and quite happy to give him dispensation to biff off into the background the rest of the time, as long as he produces the goods, say, two games out of three. Which he does.

Others would no doubt beg to differ, and indeed the contrary opinion seemed to be championed pretty firmly by the previous Grand Fromage at N17.

I do, however, acknowledge that the deployment of Bale becomes a bit more questionable when literally half the team are allergic to hard work and defensive duties. One does wonder whether the balance is quite right when somehow each of Kane, Bale, Son, Dele and Lo Celso are stuffed within the framework.

2. Aurier: Exasperating

As mentioned, Monsieur Aurier was hardly inundated with offers of support; but at the same time his usual dereliction of defensive duties was proudly on offer, with not a hint of self-consciousness.

It will come as little surprise to anyone associated with the sport that Aurier’s brightest moments were on the front-foot, and if he were stomping forward safe in the knowledge that an abundance of defensive sorts gathered behind him I think we would all rest a little easier, and maybe even wave him on his way with an encouraging shout or two.

But, as articulated at some length above, there was precious little assistance forthcoming from Bale, while Lo Celso and Dele were similarly ill-inclined to push to one side all attacking inclinations and bury themselves in the defensive duties that awaited.

Aurier, understandably enough targeted by Leeds, generally came out second-best in his scraps with the Leeds bod Harrison; and if that is disappointing but excusable, his reluctance to bust a gut in returning to his sentry post was simply not cricket. To clarify, the request here was not that he rush back to help a chum in need; it was that he rush back to do his own core duties, dash it all.

3. Dier: Dire

If he were receiving a health dollop of benefit of the doubt in the previous five or six years, it appears that popular opinion has swung pretty firmly against Eric Dier after yesterday.

As the cross for the first goal flashed towards him and into his path Dier presumably weighed up the options, and would surely have considered taking the agricultural but blisteringly effective route of hammering the ball off into the sunset.

Instead, seemingly struck by the urge to give vent to his more creative juices, he appeared to select as his method of choice for countering the danger the option of swooning out of the ball’s path and allowing it to continue on its trajectory. Unhindered by any intervention from Dier it absolutely zipped across the six-yard box, and while Reguilon joined the long list of erring lilywhites in dozing away at the back-post, before prodding it towards his own net, the damage was already done.

Now as with Serge Aurier, Dier’s cause was hardly helped by the pretty damning dereliction of duty of those around him. For the second goal Dier did make a point of calling Hojbjerg into his office as the move was beginning, and instructing him to keep an eye on the eventual goalscorer Bamford – a task that Hojbjerg appeared to consider beneath him.

When the cross did eventually whizz into the area, Bamford’s run was blissfully unhindered by Hojbjerg, but the striker then appeared right on the shoulder of Dier who reacted, as Barry Davies might have put it, by not reacting. Instead, in another of that catalogue of unexpected defensive decisions that really keep the audience on their toes, Dier responded to the immediate threat by adopting a pose of absolutely ridigity. If any passing cad happened to be in the market for Elgin Marbles this would have been mightily impressive stuff; but in terms of the matter at hand it proved ineffective, and Bamford tapped in.

(Nor should it be overlooked that the whole bally thing originated with Dier needlessly looping a defensive header straight into Leeds attacking possession).

By the time of the third goal any semblance of formation or defensive coherence had long since gone the way of all flesh, but Dier nevertheless did not miss the opportunity to exacerbate matters, first by playing Leeds onside, and then by doing a pretty rotten job of preventing the decisive square pass.

Dier apologists could legitimately point to the chap’s attacking contributions, for he took it upon himself to trundle off on a handful of bizarre, but surprisingly effective excursions up the left flank of all places. On top of which some of his long passing was pretty handy (one notes that the long diagonal pass from deep, banished under our former leader, has made a pretty triumphant return under that Poch disciple Mason).

Nevertheless, as with Aurier, the exasperation lies in the fact that Dier’s principal role is to defend, and until he excels in that, or even masters the basics, one doesn’t really care a hang for what he does beyond the halfway line.

4. Hojbjerg: Disappointing

This was one of those occasions on which one could probably have had a pretty curt word in the ear of all eleven, plus any substitutes who felt compelled to throw in a poorly-judged Rabona, with only Monsier Lloris really escaping censure.

However, as much as anything else because his standards are normally higher than those around him, I was pretty dashed disappointed with Hojbjerg.

When all around him are letting their standards slip, here is a man who seems to take it as a matter of deep ancestral pride that his remain at the highest levels. Goodness knows, therefore, what got into him yesterday, but if there were a pretty basic error to be made he seemed to be front of the queue.

His appetite for pressing and ankle-snapping at least remained undimmed throughout, but in possession in particular Hojbjerg was oddly errant. As already remarked, he was also pretty negligent in the basic duties on at least one of the goals conceded, and given the more progressive tendencies of those around him in midfield one would have expected him to be a tad more mindful of his defensive obligations.

5. Lo Celso: Glimpses, But Not Enough

Still, in the first half at least, without ever really showing an inclination to tear up Yorkshire and lay claim to the place, our lot did occasionally illustrate that when the mood takes them they can be almost effortlessly devastating.

Both the legitimate goal and the disallowed effort (a goal that we would hardly have merited, but which undoubtedly ought to have stood – and which may well then have changed the dynamic of the piece) were brief showcases of much that is good about our attacking sorts.

Ever since that glorious night in the San Siro, when Modric released Lennon, who raced half the length of the pitch before squaring for Crouch, I have lamented the lot of the unsung hero who provides the penultimate pass. It’s dashed Fantasy League football that has done this, by formally recognising the ‘Assist’; but those who, like me, hold close to their bosom the deep-lying creator will appreciate the importance of the chap who sets the ball rolling before the assist.

Yesterday, for both our allowed and disallowed goals, Lo Celso was the anonymous hero. Under pressure, around halfway, he twice wriggled sufficiently to escape enemy clutches, and twice showed presence of mind to play a forward pass to Son. On both occasions Sonny laid off to Dele, and rewards were duly reaped. It might not sound like the most devastating contributions, but I would be willing to bet the mortgage of AANP Towers that in a similar situation young Harry Winks would have pirouetted for all he was worth back towards his own goal and played the safe option.

So while one applauds Lo Celso for both his good sense and smart work in executing this operation, seeing these two particular passages did make me yearn for him to take the hint and keep peddling exactly the same trick rather more frequently. Not to put too fine a point on it but we were absolutely crying out for someone to control possession, collecting it from defence, rolling forward over halfway and playing an effective pass into attack. Lo Celso did it twice, but really ought to have done it a heck of a lot more. Ndombele, one presumes, breathes uncomfortably close behind him.

6. Dele: Reminders of His Talent

And further up the pitch, Dele’s contribution to these two goals were pleasant reminders of the impudent, attacking input he can provide to such occasions. Rather a shame that they were in a losing cause – and indeed that one was farcically disallowed – as it suggests that they might simply be lost in the mists of time rather than being as indelibly etched in the memory as I fancied they deserved to be.

The notion that this chap could be ostracised for almost the entire season does make one fling up the hands and beat the chest rather, but if there were doubts about Dele’s abilities I imagine that a run of half a dozen or so games will sweep them aside.

I don’t doubt that plenty will have their say about his contributions elsewhere on the pitch, in tracking back and helping out the nibs behind him, all of which might be legitimate enough; but given that he was picked as a Number 10 role, I thought his two contributions to the ball ending up in the net illustrated that he is pretty worthy of the role.

Spurs 4-0 Sheffield United: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Mason, Jose and Attacking Football

There are presumably countless pros and cons to Ryan Mason’s managerial style, but one in particular seems to distinguish him, namely that quality of not being Jose Mourinho. And proof of this, lest it were needed, seemed to be evidenced an hour before kick-off yesterday when the teamsheets trickled through, to reveal a team notably bereft of defensive shackles.

Hugo was present and correct, ‘tis true, as were a couple of token centre-backs. But, with the opposition being already-relegated Sheffield United, the acid test seemed to be how the remaining sets of limbs might be scattered about the place. And where Jose would typically have opted for two of those sorts created by nature to sit deep in midfield and block, plus wingers selected on account of their work-rate in helping out the full-backs, Mason to his credit concluded that what the circumstances demanded were seven pairs of attacking legs, all stationed north of the halfway line.

Thus we were treated to the most refreshing sight of Hojbjerg given lone sentry duty, while Lo Celso was instructed to roll out his best Luka Modric impression, sitting deep but with a licence to create. Dele was given the honour of the Number 10 (Ndombele seemingly the odd man out in this reshuffle), behind Bale, Son and Kane, with both full-backs heartily encouraged to bound into the final third and make merry as they pleased.

In truth, I thought we lacked a little of the non-stop intensity that one expects from the off, but with that much attacking quality on show, and particularly when up against a team as dreadful as Sheffield United, it hardly mattered.

Now in the interests of fairness it is worth pointing out that under Jose, when not sitting deep and throwing away leads our lot did carve out an occasional tendency to make hay by the bundle, and score three, four or more of an afternoon.

However, two elements of our play seemed to distinguish this lot from the Jose Vintage. Exhibit A was the countless number of times that a lilywhite shirt won back possession high up the pitch. This routine was aided to a degree by the fact that United’s project to find new and exciting ways to be dreadful included an endless stream of rubbish clearances straight to our players, but nevertheless most of our number distinguished themselves by nipping in, stealing the ball from United toes and, still nipping, shoving it forward for our next attack.

And Exhibit B was the fact that having gone a goal up our lot did not then batten down every available hatch and retreat to within twenty yards of their own goal for the remainder of the game, inviting pressure. With attacking inclinations they had begun proceedings, and with attacking inclinations they remained.

We’ll never know how Jose would have set up for this particular game, and in the coming weeks we’ll know a bit more about how Mason plans to set up against more obdurate mobs; but this felt like a pretty breezy antidote to a lot of the rot that Jose had been peddling in our back garden.

2. Dele Alli

Few things summed up the Jose era quite like the pointless shunning of Dele Alli, and on his restoration yesterday I thought he made a decent stab of things.

Now on relaying this sentiment to my Spurs-supporting chum Dave yesterday, I seemed to provoke unfettered apoplexy, so this communication probably merits particular care. For clarity, when I suggest that Dele made a decent stab of things I am not intimating that I considered his performance to constitute some sort of messianic hybrid of Pele, Hoddle and Messi rolled into one.

It was more that I thought he did not shirk the challenge but seemed to wander about the grounds demanding the ball, and when he received it generally seemed willing to snuffle around looking for useful things he might do with it. Some worked well, some worked less well, but for a man who has been starved of football for a year or so it was good to see him essentially getting the hang of things again.

In the debit column I did think he might have made more forward bursts, especially with Kane peddling that tiresome drop-deep act of his once again. Opportunity knocked for Dele to surge into the area a little more frequently than he did. Furthermore, the mildly exasperating tendency remains for him to hang on the ball for far longer than is necessary, and I suppose if he is to be reintegrated we will need to re-learn to take that particular rough with the smooth.

But in general he seemed happy to muck in with the rest of them. Watching him I was reminded of how Eriksen would often shimmer out of existence for great patches of games; there did not seem to be any of that with Dele. He might have been more effective, but he at least was always willing to be involved.

Moreover, it seemed to escape the attention of the commentators at least that he played a deliciously-weighted ball inside the full-back to release Aurier in setting up the third goal. The man who assists the assist rarely wins many plaudits (it seems only right at this point once again to name-check Luka Modric) but Dele’s pass here was as skilful as it was important.

And for good measure he won his challenge in setting up the assist for the fourth goal too. Not the sort of stuff that attracted neon lights, but a pretty handy return to the fold nonetheless.

3. Bale

Understandably enough those neon lights were hogged by Gareth Bale. It is an odd quirk of football that a man who scores a hat-trick must be placed upon a pedestal that decrees him to have had a magnificent time of things, irrespective of whether or not he actually played well aside from his three moments. Their general contribution can be middling, their work-rate low or passing accuracy off, but score three goals and all other ills are forgiven and it’s a nine out of ten at the very least.

And yesterday I thought Bale pottered about the place well enough, without dominating proceedings. That is to say, it was not the case that every time he received the ball he had his opponent on toast, nor that he spent the evening terrorising all who stood before him. In fact, for the opening half hour I though he and Aurier, in keeping with the collective, were a little lackadaisical.

But then this seems to be Bale’s way, at least in his second coming. He potters around, probing at his man in fairly humdrum fashion, until suddenly he unleashes a flash of absolute genius that results in a goal. If you want someone to dictate the game and run amok non-stop then look elsewhere; but if you need a game-changing moment, then shove this man to the front of the queue and stick a crown on his head and mitre in his hand.

All three of his goals were expertly taken yesterday, and each seemed to indicate a chap suddenly springing from third gear to first in the blink of an eye. Must be a dashed nuisance to defend against.

I was particularly enamoured of his second. The gallop at full pelt the entire length of the pitch had a pleasing aesthetic quality to it, and the finish, both in wrong-footing the ‘keeper and in lashing it into the top corner, was ripe old stuff.

4. Aurier

This was undoubtedly one of the better days in the Aurier catalogue – but then we all knew that here was a chap born to do his best work going forward.

With United limited to one shot at goal throughout, Aurier’s defensive responsibilities were at an absolute minimum, and he took full advantage, seeming rather to enjoy himself by the end of things. All the more impressive if, as seemed to be the case, he was fasting until midway through the second half.

Sterner tests will await – and in fact I’m not sure he’ll ever have an easier time of things – but credit where due, the onus was on him, and Senor Reguilon on the left, to provide the attacking overloads on the flanks, and both took to the task with gusto. Curiously enough, neither seemed wedded to the touchline, both taking every opportunity to head infield as appropriate, but the ends seemed to justify the means.

As I suspect is the case with many Spurs fans, I’ve been compiling the list of those I’d like to stay and those I’d like gone in whatever brave new world transpires, and Aurier sits firmly on the latter list; but when we’re on the front-foot and defensive responsibilities can largely be glossed over, the chap certainly has his merits.

Everton 2-2 Spurs: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. Kane’s Deep Role

No doubt plenty of column inches across the land are being served up regarding H. Kane Esq. today. There’s the happy matter of his two goals, which I think we’d all pretty comfortably watch on loop until the end of days; and his ankle, which is a decidedly less sunny topic; but the issue nibbling at me like the dickens is this nonsense of him dropping deep and spending the entire binge pottering around in midfield like nobody’s business.

Now the complaint I am about to file is hardly unprecedented, so if it’s original content you’re after I’m afraid you’re bang out of luck.

The thrust of it is that Kane is a goalscorer of the highest calibre, and as such really ought to spend as much of his time as possible situated in the opposition penalty area.

One understands that every now and then there comes a tide in the affairs of man which pretty much forces him to nip out and tie up a few loose ends. And if circumstances thus drag Kane towards halfway for a moment or two, then I think we’d all be pretty content to wave him through, just as long as he’s back up in or around the penalty area in two shakes of a lamb’s tail. That, after all, is where the magic happens.

Instead, as often as not, he’s mooching around in midfield for the majority of the blasted match, as if won over by that peculiarity of the judicial system that allows a squatter to become the legal owner of a property they’ve occupied without anyone else’s permission, simply by virtue of having been there for a given period.

At first it was a rather impressive party-trick, swanning back to halfway and pinging forty-yarders into the path of Son to score, and we were happy enough to indulge him for five minutes each week if it kept him happy.

But a five-minute treat is one thing; setting up permanent residence is a completely different kettle of fish. Even if he wants to dabble in those arts once every ten minutes, then we would probably find it the lesser of two evils, as he is at times very effective in the role, make no mistake – but yesterday he spent all but the entire game there. Why the hell he is doing it so incessantly is anyone’s guess. It’s not as if there’s more glory to be had back there.

It seems particularly pertinent to point this out on a day on which he was given but two sniffs of opportunities in the area, both of which were fleeting in nature and yet both of which were despatched with absolutely ruthless efficiency, before anyone else in the vicinity had even started to calculate what circus-like sequence of events had transpired amongst the Everton defenders to bring us to that point.

With the Everton mob crashing into each other and ball pinballing around, one would have adopted a spirit of understanding if Kane had himself dallied somewhat, to find his bearings and gather his thoughts, before casting an eye over his options and weighing up the behaviour most appropriate to the situation.

Not Harry Kane. Not a bit of it. While we mere mortals were still formulating the phrase, “What ho, it looks like something might be on here”, Kane had already swivelled and lashed, and was deep into his kiss-ring-and-fist-pump routine.

(It ought also to be noted that the first goal additionally involved him plucking the ball out of the sky at a moment’s notice in order to facilitate the swivel-and-lash, but such is the man’s ability in front of goal that he made this not inconsiderable task appear as straightforward as shelling peas.)

Now I wasn’t kidding about watching those goals on loop ad infinitum, and I’d be similarly happy to write about them until well into the night too, but the moral of the story must not be overlooked, which is that the man should stick to the final third, dash it. We have amongst our number the most talented goalscorer of his generation; let’s maximise that talent by ensuring that he spends as much time as possible in the position that best facilitates him scoring goals. Which sure as heck isn’t going to be a patch of grass on the left-hand touchline about fifty yards out.

2. Errant Passing

Kane’s goals were fabulous, and would be the highlight of many a middling football match, but amidst the usual dross on show yesterday they shone particularly brightly.

It’s dashed hard to know what to make of things under Jose at the best of times, but yesterday matters were complicated no end by the fact that half of those given the honour of representing our glorious establishment marked the occasion by kicking the ball to whomever the hell they pleased as long as it wasn’t a teammate.

This approach complicated matters. I read somewhere that Ndombele gave away possession on fourteen occasions, and while I could not comment on the precise statistical veracity of this claim, it did sound about right, I must admit. He was pretty dreadful, and he was not the only one.

Now this is not to besmirch his character. One reads about the hand that giveth and in the same breath taketh away, and so it is with observations of Ndombele’s recent performances, for against Man Utd last week I read a similarly unverified line suggesting that he alone did not give away possession once in the entire first half.

Yesterday, however, was one of those days in which none of our lot seemed to attach too much importance to the business of retaining possession. The scrappy opening exchanges in which the ball failed to attach to anyone stretched out into the entire game.

Aurier, Hojbjerg, Reguilon and Sissoko were all as guilty as Ndombele of bunting the ball any which way, and nor is that a conclusive list.

3. The Spurs Way

As if to hammer home that here stood a team pretty devoid of direction, we then pulled off our usual feat of letting a lead slip, and thereafter going through the motions until we fell behind, at which point we promptly bucked right up and started to play with thrust and enterprise. Or, as one might label it, “The Usual”.

Now in general I’m not a fan of that blister Carragher on commentary, but like a broken clock he does stumble upon a truth every now and then, and so it was that I found myself in complete agreement with him at one point yesterday. Which sat pretty uncomfortably with me, I don’t mind telling you.

He expressed the opinion that the current lilywhite vintage perform entirely in reaction to the scoreline at any given point. And by Jove, he was right. Should we find ourselves leading, we sit back and defend; should we find ourselves trailing, we lock and load, and make a damn good fist of things in search of an equaliser; and I suppose if scores our level we simply go through the motions, rather waiting for something to happen or the match to end. Waiting for the other lot to die of boredom, as one of our greatest would have put it.

Thus spake that Carragher creature, and, with a heavy heart, I found myself agreeing. This lot have no particular identity. They just check the scoreline and behave accordingly.

I suppose in the interests of fairness one ought to acknowledge that this week we did not throw away the lead in the usual, spirit-sapping fashion; but the general point remains nonetheless. The series of ghastly individual performances and countless misplaced passes hardly helped things; but as ever it was the mentality of the players, at various different points, that really grated.

4. The Penalty

I mentioned the penalty, so now is as ripe a time as any to elaborate.

The forensics team seemed to conclude that there was some contact, and you can press your ear to the keyhole of AANP Towers but you won’t hear much complaint about the decision here. If it were a foul, then the decision was correct; if umpteen replays suggested that it weren’t a foul then it was hardly a clear and obvious error; so few grumbles from this quarter.

Rather, and not for the first time, I take issue with that one amongst our number who gave the referee a decision to make in the first place, this week Reguilon. He seemed briefly to reject the laws of physics, and convince himself that rather than taking the circuitous approach around James, either via the eastward route or the westward, it would be feasible to gain possession by motoring straight through the back of him.

This judgement having taken hold, young Senor Reguilon seemed pretty committed to it until the very last moment, when a lone voice of reason seemed to make itself heard amongst the chorus presumably urging him to plough straight on, and at that point Reguilon made a rather belated attempt to slam on the brakes.

This evasive action was undertaken too late, however. The whole interaction proved irresistible, and to the surprise of precisely no-one the judgement was made. Contact or not, Reguilon paid the price for the pretty daft decision to steam towards James from behind, rather than go around him.

It was pretty frustrating stuff, because while one would ideally prefer not to concede, if one has to (and let’s face it, with present-day Spurs it does seem part of the deal each week) one would prefer that the opposition earn it.

5. Ndomble in the Number 10 Role

I alluded above to the pretty careless streak to Ndombele’s performance, and I think there is more to be said on this.

These days I doubt Jose has much plan of how to achieve whatever it is he wants to achieve, instead simply trying something new each week. Yesterday it was a back-three, wing-backs and Ndombele in the number 10 role, supporting Sonny and Kane, wherever the hell he had wandered off to.

Now this struck me as a rum move. For a start, poor Lucas would have had the right to mutter a choice Portuguese oath or two. In recent weeks, while the form of the collective might have fallen off a cliff, Lucas has conducted himself pretty creditably, finally seeming to find a home within the starting eleven, as a Number 10 with licence to dribble.

Those who like their stats will point to a couple of goals and assists, but more pertinently the evidence of the eyes has suggested that his mazy dribbles from deep, work-rate when out of possession and positions adopted to support attacks have made him a useful egg to have around.

I was therefore rather taken aback to see him demoted for this one.

And more to the point, I was all the more taken aback to see Ndombele replace him in that spot. Being pretty quick with these things, I conducted a brief spot of mental research – a vox pops of myself, if you will – and found that on balance, I’d have Ndombele as sixth in line to the throne of Number 10.

Ahead of him are Kane (admittedly this is a bit of a rogue entry, as I may have mentioned that I’d prefer Kane up the top of the tree); Dele; Lo Celso; Lucas, on current form at least, and possibly even Lamela, who having spent this season worming his way into my affections is likely to stay there at least until the evenings draw in again.

All of which made the choice of Ndombele a slightly iffy one, and nor was it one that the man himself did a great job of vindicating. It seemed particularly appropriate, and rather to sum up the current state of things at N17, that on being hooked from proceedings, Ndombele took it upon himself to mooch off to the changing rooms on his own.

Spurs 1-3 Man Utd: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Bad, But Marginally Less Bad Than We’re Used To

It’s a sign of things, and a pretty damning sign at that, when progress is being measured by how less disastrous the situation now is compared to previous times, but that’s about the rub of it here at AANP Towers.

Once upon a time – by which I mean just about every game – I would use these pages to wail and lament like a banshee having a particularly bad time of it, on the grounds that we just seemed to observe the same damn thing every damn week. Viz. that our lot would take a lead; drop deep and try soak up pressure; fail to soak up said pressure and concede; concede again dammit with five minutes remaining; and then put on an impressive, but futile attacking display in the dying embers in an attempt to claw back the lost points.

Now this week, while most of the above admittedly remains true, the crucial difference is that we did not drop deep and try to soak up the pressure.

As I result, I got to about the eightieth minute or so of this one feeling less of the usual weekly frustration and ire. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised by the whole thing. Seeing our lot churn out something not particularly good, but not quite as bad as usual, felt if not exactly uplifting then at least a mite more calming than the usual tortuous fare. Yes, we were dropping points; but at least we weren’t dropping points in a manner quite as negative as usual.

(Or rather, that was the state of things until we conceded the second, at which point I expected our usual punchy, late attempt to salvage something, but this was also strangely lacking. In fact, our lot seemed to settle for defeat even with ten minutes left on the clock, barely able to get a foot on the ball, let alone mount a late charge at the opposition goal. All of which rather soured my mood of previous calm.)

However – and I refer you back to the opening gambit, above – when progress is being measured by things being slightly less disastrous than usual you know you’re in a bit of a spot.

I’m not quite sure what the plan was, it being neither to play on the front foot nor the counter-attacking back foot. We had our moments, but United generally had more of them. I noted to a chum pre-match that I would prefer seeing us go down in flames as in the 5-4 defeat at Everton then meekly limp to the usual 1-1 draws each week; but this felt like neither. The whole thing was a bit odd and uninspiring; and that was even before we conceded two late goals.

2. Hojbjerg

One definite ray of sunshine was the pitter-patter of Hojbjerg’s size nines around the place. Since the turn of the year he’s occasionally dipped below his usual high standards, but today signalled a return to something like peak Hojbjerg (possibly benefiting from a rare midweek rest?).

If there were a playground-style, thrashing tackle to be made, he merrily stomped in and made it. If there were an opportunity to nip in quickly and win back possession only recently surrendered, he did not wait for the Ts and Cs of the deal to be refined.

At one point in the second half he broke up a potential United counter-attack and appeared for all the world to be appealing for some non-existent crusade; until I realised that he was actually bellowing a celebration at having conceded a throw in the cause of stifling a United move at source.

Not much else in lilywhite clicked today, but Hojbjerg’s performance was impressive.

3. Lucas

Scraping the barrel now admittedly, but Lucas showed a few flashes of creativity, when not being bumped from the number ten spot by Lo Celso.

The chap always brims with pretty honest sweat and endeavour, which is decent of him but of itself not exactly blowing up anyone’s skirts. Where Lucas does add value, however, is in picking up the ball just over halfway and jinking away from scything legs, transferring the action from what might be termed Midfield Stodge to what might equally be termed Final Third Potential.

As with Lamela a month or so ago, he seems to be benefitting from a steady run of starts, and while hardly in the same bracket as Kane and Sonny, he does at least provide decent empirical evidence for his position ahead of Bale in the queue for the coveted role of Fun Uncle.

A smart assist for Sonny’s goal today too; and in fact most of those involved in its genesis (Ndombele, Lo Celso and, to a lesser extent, Kane) attracted commendation. Seeing goals like that equally delights (because lovely goals do make the heart leap, what?) and infuriates (because why the devil can’t we peddle such stuff more often?).

4. The Defence

Given the personnel at his disposal, I’m not sure that Jose could unveil any back-four without inducing a groan from these parts, so when the names Aurier and Dier were rattled off I suspect I wasn’t the only one praying for their guardian angels to be on high alert.

As it happened though, and in another indication of that first point in today’s sermon about progress being measured by a reduction in dreadfulness, the back-four were generally not terrible.

Neither United’s disallowed goal nor their first two legitimate goals were necessarily due to the type of schoolboy defending that has graced the turf a little too often in the last few years (I’ll overlook the third as it stemmed from several of our lot being dragged out of position). United’s movement of the ball for these goals was impressive, and I suspect a neutral might have dished out some polite applause. There was not, on first sight at least, a great deal that might have been done about them.

First sight, however, may have been a little generous.

Eric Dier has few obvious attributes upon which to call, but generally fares better in the more static life that accompanies crosses or passes into the box than the sprint-based existence of chasing from halfway. However, both United’s first two and their disallowed goal were fashioned in and around the penalty area, and for both Cavani’s allowed and disallowed goal Dier simply lost track of the striker.

This is not to suggest that I might have done any better; if one is supposed to walk a mile in a man’s shoes before chipping away at his character I’d be an unholy mess at this point. But that’s not really the point, is it? Dier is supposed to be an international defender, and while Cavani is a master at his art, Dier was not just a yard behind him, he was completely ignorant of his whereabouts.

Aurier, inevitably, dozed off for one of the goals (their second, allowing Cavani to breeze past him unbothered); while young Rodon switched off for the equaliser, when he ought to have been first on the scene after Lloris parried away the initial shot.

So there were some pretty preventable errors scattered about the place for the goals, but nevertheless, this did not seem a game in which to lambast those at the back. By and large they did a presentable job of things, and while Dier may not be the most alert soul on the planet, Rodon at least seemed to know his beans.

Who the hell knows which combo Jose will try next, given that his selection method seems to be to close his eyes and pick names out of a hat, but there would seem to be both immediate and at least medium-term benefit in giving persisting with young Joe Rodon.

Newcastle 2-2 Spurs: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. Intensity: Only To Be Shown When We Fall Behind

Now don’t get me wrong, one need not be one of those intellectual sorts clothed in lab coats and spewing out formulae to be able to pop a positive spin on this one. There was decent attacking interplay; we created a solid fistful of pretty reasonable chances in front of goal; Lucas continues to look a game number 10, Sonny is back and Ndombele picked a couple of those natty slide-rule passes of which Luka Modric would be proud.

But if you are anything like AANP then you dismiss these so-called silver linings as rot, and your face is as thunder. One might argue that we fared reasonably, and that two goals and a point on the road represents a commendable effort: but don’t be fooled. Newcastle, every time we play them, for all their willing are blisteringly average and we should have been perfectly capable of tearing them to pieces.

Even allowing for the fact that our defence is so incapable of getting their little heads around the most basic precepts of the game that they are basically worth two goals to the opposition every match, we still ought to have made mincemeat of Newcastle. And lest you be in the slightest doubt about this, pray cast your gaze upon Exhibit A, the Tottenham Starting Eleven; and Exhibit B, the five minutes or so after we fell behind.

That starting eleven (Exhibit A, that’s for those who, much like Davinson Sanchez, are struggling to keep up with things going on around them) had enough talent to have one hand tied behind their backs, play in blindfolds and only use their weaker foot, and still be pretty evenly matched with a team as devastatingly mediocre as Newcastle. Alas, our heroes seemed determined to take this challenge literally, and set about the thing as if deliberately doing so at half-pace, just to ensure an even contest.

With Jose seemingly giving instruction that the mega-cautious approach of two holding midfielders was to be torn to shreds for one night only, we were even treated to the most becoming sight of an attacking midfield packed with the delights of Ndombele, Lo Celso, Lucas and Kane, with Reguilon eager not to miss out on the left.

It ought to have had the makings of a mauling. Any two of those alone, in combination, could probably have given Newcastle the run around if sufficiently motivated.

And, as per Exhibit B, once the indignity had been suffered of going behind, the pistons started pumping and all concerned treated us to five minutes or so of their collective A-game, all forward passes between the lines and movement in between defenders. Two goals duly followed lickety-split, and those manning the floodgates sounded due warning that all hell was about to break loose.

And then, dash it all, the half-time gong sounded, our heroes paused long enough to realise that they were actually ahead and all need for intensity vanished as swiftly as it had arrived.

Sure, we made the occasional second half dart, and could pretty easily have increased the lead on the strength of those chances alone; but any manic intensity that would have strangled the life out of Newcastle – and of which the personnel were perfectly capable – was gone.

Put simply, had they approached the second half with that same, aggrieved determination as they had approached the five minutes after conceding the opener, we would have witnessed a rout.

Instead, and for apparently the eighth time this season (Eighth! Egads!), we have thrown away points by conceding in the final ten minutes of the season. (I pause at this juncture, for a stiff, Sunday afternoon cordial, to give the necessary strength.)

2. Sanchez

I have a feeling that in each of the most recent half-dozen or so games, I have featured prominently in my post-match ruminations the doings (and, typically, misadventures) of Davinson Sanchez.

If the repetition is grating, then I can only beg your pardon; but let’s face it, the wretched blighter hardly helps himself.

He gave early signal of his intention this afternoon, with a second-minute header into the lap of a Newcastle forward who was still catching breath from him pre-game warm-up, and while that chance was duly wasted (this, after all, is modern-day Newcastle), young Master Sanchez evidently considered that he had found the appropriate level for his afternoon’s work.

Thereafter, seasoned players of Davinson Sanchez Bingo were in for an Easter Sunday treat, as the young blister treated us to his just about his entire array of ignominy, from countless wayward passes to a couple of mistimed leaps, culminating in not one but two tours de force: the clearance (I use the term loosely) that presented Newcastle with the opportunity for their opening goal; and the decision to clatter with his whole body into the nearest chum while attempting to defend (I again use the term loosely) the cross that brought their second goal.

(Although on the subject of the second goal, a dozen lashes each across the backs of Messrs Lamela and Lo Celso for casually and criminally slowing to a halt as the Newcastle attack germinated, and allowing Willock to run beyond them, unmanned, to slap home the goal. Eminently avoidable stuff, and quite possibly indicative of a broader attitudinal issue.)

But back to the lamentable Sanchez, before he thinks he has escaped admonishment. One can only assume that the blighter plays like some sort of holy amalgamation of Ledley King and peak Jaap Stam in training, because little he does on the pitch suggests that here strides a Champions League-level defender.

3. Rodon and Tanganga

Blessed with Sanchez alongside him for company I did wonder what despicable acts Joe Rodon must have committed in a former life to earn the privilege. I must admit that the morbid fascination with Sanchez meant that I did not necessarily pay due attention to the beaverings of young Rodon alongside him, and it generally became a little difficult to match the blame for our numerous defensive mishaps to the appropriate defender.

Rodon gives the impression of one with whom it is worth persisting, on the basis of some well-judged interventions. Whether or not he is an organiser of things, a quality in which we are in desperate need, is an unanswered question at present, but I thought he emerged with some credit.

And t’other side of the lamentable Sanchez, young Tanganga probably reserved his finest moments for the front-foot. When called to defend, not for the first time in his fledgling career his decisions seemed a little too heavily influenced by some positional naivety, not least in being sucked infield to help out Sanchez, and leaving in the lap of the gods those activities in operation behind him.

With Toby’s use-by date just about upon us, and Dier operating at precisely 0.5 times the speed of every other professional in the game, the grim conclusion is that we are pretty desperately need of at least one prime centre-back to slot straight into the starting line-up and liven the dickens out of the rest of the defensive mob.

4. Kane

Mercifully, when all about are losing their heads – and, more pertinently, their slim leads in the final five minutes – one can always seek (and find) solace in the quite astonishing outputs of Harry Kane.

For a player at pretty much the opposite end of the Natural Talent Spectrum to the game’s true greats, the quality he delivers game after game is absolutely unreal. His first goal was hardly a lesson in the finer arts, but as exemplars for persistence, presence and a striker’s instinct to gamble it was something from which young Master Vinicius might have taken copious notes, Vinicus being one found a little too often rocking casually on his heels for my liking.

Kane’s second, however, was an absolute dream, contact so sweet one wanted to football’s governing bodies to compose for it one of those special anthems they insist on blaring out as the players line up for every game.

For Kane to be top-scorer in the league, and near enough top assist-provider, within a team that is as inclined to defend their own penalty area as to attack the opposition’s, makes the man a pretty strong contender for player of the season (particularly given the fact that the success of the runaway leaders is not really due to the stand-out efforts of any particular individual).

All of which still does Kane a disservice, because to judge the honest fellow purely on the basis of his goals and assists is to ignore most of what he does in a game. Even the chances he misses are ripe for study, given the manner in which he so frequently shifts the ball between his feet and then lashes a shot that nutmegs the defender and leaves the ‘keeper rooted to the spot (note today’s effort that hit the post).

On top of all of which, the chap has even taken to modelling his looks upon AANP’s lockdown, swept-back, no-longer-giving-a-damn haircut. A most becoming choice, if I may so.

5. The Awkward Subject of Kane’s Free-Kicks

If there is one, gaping in flaw in Kane’s DNA it is his comically bad free-kick taking ability. I have a feeling that one of, if not his very first league goal for us, might have been a free-kick, but an equally strong suspicion that it was deflected (which would make a heck of a lot of sense, because nature’s elements alone will not divert the ball from its wild trajectories towards goal).

Now it seems that on the basis of this one, freakishly fortunate, close-your-eyes-and-thwack effort half a decade ago – albeit probably in conjunction with his standing as the greatest striker of his generation – Kane’s general ineptitude when presented with ball, wall and twenty yards is no impediment. His teammates simply present him with the ball and sidle off to their positions in preparation for the coming goal-kick.

It is quite the oddity for one so plainly dedicated to every element of his craft, but his abilities seem to drain from him as he soon as he spots the ball from twenty-plus yards – to the extent that the greatest PR agency in the world would struggle to sell Kane on free-kick duty, unless the aim of the exercise is the bloot the thing into the wall, into the orbit or into any other vacant space not occupied by the goal webbing.

That aside however, the lad is worth his weight in the 24-carat stuff, and we should cherish his every contribution.

The occasional AANP tweet to be found hither

Dinamo Zagreb 3-0 Spurs: Three Tottenham Talking Points

1. Attitude

The attitude of the players seems to be the major gripe amongst the masses today, and that particular narrative certainly gets my vote, because from the AANP vantage point last night the attitude of the collective from first whistle to approximately the 115th minute stunk the place out.

And while the countless individuals thrust into the limelight yesterday should all be publicly flogged for their pitiful efforts, I do wonder what the hell Jose is doing to earn his weekly envelope. If the players’ attitudes are rummy, or their confidence low, then the manager is presumably tasked with inspiring the requisite changes in mindset, and sharpish. And if the manager is incapable of drumming into their thick skulls the need to buck up and get the pistons firing, then one might say he is incapable, full stop.

It would not quite be accurate to say our lot picked up where they left off on Sunday, because strictly speaking, on Sunday we perked up considerably once the odds had lengthened to enormous levels (anyone else notice a theme emerging here?) via throwing away a lead, going behind and going down to ten men. At that point the place was choc-full of fire in the belly.

No, more accurately, our heroes picked up pretty much where they started on Sunday, or perhaps a regressed a step or two from that point. The approach last night from the opening toot seemed to be to hope that the game would stagnate into nihilism, actively trying to ensure that nothing happened each minute so that we could hurry along to the final whistle and qualification, preferably without the need to break sweat.

Now strictly speaking, in logical terms, there was much to applaud about this approach. If nothing had happened, we would indeed have qualified. Very clever stuff. If the entire match could have been spent by Winks and Sissoko passing sideways to each other and occasionally backwards to Sanchez, as seemed to be the dedicated aim, then we would indeed have coasted through. In fact, I got the impression that our lot were hoping that the ref would decree that there was no need to play a game at all, and that he might just instruct everyone to sit quietly on the spot for 90 minutes, after which results would be recorded with minimal fuss.

However, while fool-proof in theory, if anyone wanted practical evidence of flaws in the tactical approach of “Let’s hope nothing happens for the entire 90 minutes”, then last night their cup overflowed with the stuff.

The galling thing was that one goal would have neatly ended the contest, and one goal against these willing but limited opponents was eminently achievable. Had our heroes gone up the necessary gears they would almost certainly have fashioned enough chances to kill the thing.

Instead, as per the headline, the attitude stunk the place out. Our mob presented themselves as fully converted to the doctrine that they needed only be present and the game would see itself through to full-time in their favour. No effort was exerted in search of a goal because no need was seen for a goal, and the sound of a million Spurs fans banging their heads against the nearest brick wall back home did nothing to amend this.

2. Jose’s Future

It has been widely suggested that Daniel Levy has sacked numerous coaches for less heinous crimes than the rap sheet currently pinned to Jose. Whether or not this is true, one would imagine that the Paymaster General is now casting his mind back a little nervously to Jose’s assurances on contract-signing day. Where Poch’s appeals for funds were often ignored, Jose was invited to dive into a cartoon bathtub full of money at the first opportunity.

Having been duly backed, we find ourselves outsiders for the top four and peddling some pretty dreadful fare on the pitch; and really at least one of these – results or performances – needs to be in place to justify this whole wretched experience.

In the interests of fairness it should not be overlooked that we have at least started beating the teams at the lower end of the table, as the recent run of victories evidences. Nevertheless, the nagging suspicion remains that, armed with Kane, Bale, Son, Lucas, Dele, Lamela, Ndombele and Reguilon at their disposal, most managers ever to have walked the earth could probably have conjured up a win at home to Burnley.

It is being suggested that a Cup Final win against City would be enough to keep Jose in post, and Levy presumably would concur. After all, the whole point of the Jose exercise seemed to be to bring in some shiny pots. I’m not sure that the t’s and c’s included doing so at the expense of our footballing souls, but if it’s pots that Levy is after, then at least one pot Jose now has an opportunity to snaffle.

The AANP tuppence worth is that this would not be sufficient. Should Jose win the Carabao then let that be a triumphant, if ill-deserved, coda to a pretty ghastly tenure, and let’s have him shoved out the door while bleating about his knack for winning titles wherever he goes.

As suggested above, Jose does not appear capable of coaxing, cajoling, hypnotising or blackmailing the players into playing with the requisite attacking feist. Blessed with arguably three of the most talented attacking footballers of their generation, not to a mention a supporting cast that would be the envy of most teams across Europe, he has fashioned a team that seems convinced the road to glory is paved with a counter-attack every half hour.

The style is only bearable if we are top of – or perhaps challenging for – the league. In this context, winning a trophy (via a bye, a penalty shoot-out and wins against two lower-league opponents) hardly cures all ills.

I spent much of last night trying to avert the bleeding of my eyes by working out whether we are a decent team that is occasionally dreadful, or a dreadful team that is occasionally decent. Neither of these seem good enough for a manager having wads of cash thrust into every available pocket, yet who, eighteen months in, is yet to present a plan for future improvement.

All that said, it is difficult to imagine Levy giving his man the elbow unless we spin down into the bottom half. For unfathomable reasons Levy seems pretty obsessed with Jose, having near-enough stalked the man until he agreed to hop on board. It seems unlikely that he will turn on his back on him now, with the Top Four and a Cup Final win both still within the realms of possibility.

3. Son and Kane’s Futures

But to hell with Jose, what about Sonny and Kane?

I’m no student of body-language, but Kane’s demeanour as he exited the crime-scene last night did not strike me as that of a man bursting with the joys of life and all it has to offer. My spies tell me that the fellow turns 28 this summer, and one would therefore not blame him for using his quieter moments to pause and wonder where the heck his first winners’ medal might come from, and whether any more might follow.

Things would be different if, as were the case in the prime Poch years, the club were elbowing its way into conversations about the top prizes, and appeared to be in with a shout. Kane presumably is not hanging his hat on this particular season being one of triumph, but, one suspects, he would at the very least want to see that the vehicle as a whole is heading off in the direction of success.

Alas, under Jose there is precious little indication of any such thing. The current lot are pretty accurately-seated, being somewhere between sixth and tenth, and with every step forward having pretty promptly been followed by one in the opposite direction.

Kane undoubtedly has affection for the club, and it’s a safe bet that he is well aware of being within a season or two of Jimmy Greaves’ record, but one would hardly be surprised if he announced that he would rather not spend his prime years working up a sweat on Thursday nights in Zagreb. This is not to denigrate Zagreb: I dated a Croat for a while in my youth, and can attest to the fact that the city has its fair share of delights; but regular Champions League involvement is not amongst them. Kane will rightly feel that he needs to be sharing a stage with Lewandowski, Mbappe and Haaland, and the clock is ticking on his career.

While Sonny may be inclined to wait a little longer, I imagine he will have less of an affinity to the club than Kane, and it’s a pretty safe bet that he will be almightily cheesed off if Kane gathers his possessions and pootles out the door.

Nights like last night are happening a little too often; much more of such rot and the whole dashed thing will unravel.

Arsenal 2-1 Spurs: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. The Most Lamela Performance Imaginable

If you want to describe the mood at AANP Towers as “sombre” that will be fine with me, because that was pretty rotten stuff. Since the final whistle I have mostly just aimlessly wandered about the place: not as a devastatingly accurate tribute to those in lilywhite today, but because there was precious little about which to cheer.

Not for the first time in recent weeks, pretty much the sole beacon of light amidst this gloom was – or at least, was until he wasn’t – Erik Lamela.

Quite unperturbed by his rather hurried introduction into affairs, Lamela just set about the game as I imagine he sets about dressing himself in the morning, or eating his breakfast: viz. with high energy, sneaky fouls and a total reliance on his left foot.

It would be a stretch, and in fact a plain untruth, to say that he brimmed with creativity, but as ever he seemed pretty keen to engage in robust exchanges of views with just about anyone clad in red who wandered anywhere near him.

The highlight, of course, was his goal. Has any mortal ever held his right foot in such disregard as Lamela? Not that I’m complaining of course, because I suspect most of us would happily retire after scoring a goal like that, in a game like this (and for added delectation the shot also nutmegged some lost soul en route to goal). For a while it seemed that Lamela had done the most Lamela thing imaginable.

Except, alas, there was more classic Lamela to come. Any game of Lamela Bingo requires a yellow card borne of a fully determined but slightly mistimed tackle, and being the excitable sort of fellow he is, this duly followed. However, on this matter I have a healthy dollop of sympathy for the man, because the sequence of events that earned that first yellow card involved, in chronological order, i) Lamela winning ball, and ii) Lamela flying into opponent.

One might argue that this is simply the manner in which games are officiated these days, and that would be a pretty irresistible point; but in the latter stages I’m pretty sure Xhaka went flying into a challenge on Doherty, taking first ball and then clattering man, and earning nothing more than an unconcerned shrug from those in authority. Scandalous stuff.

Frankly I thought Lamela’s second yellow was also rather soft. Not the wisest course of action from a man already cautioned, ‘tis true, but the supposedly flailing arm could pretty reasonably have been construed as a fairly harmless attempt push away the chest of his opponent. Spilt milk now, of course.

And thus we had every aspect of Lamela, in an hour-long microcosm.

2. Doherty and Bale

Lamela’s goal, and Lucas’ diligent beavering in the final fifteen, were about as uplifting as things got.

Just about everywhere else on the pitch there seemed to be a pretty hefty dereliction of duty, as all involved misplaced passes (Hojbjerg being oddly culpable on multiple occasions), wandered into dead-ends or generally turned in curiously lethargic performances, as if the current state of affairs in the world were weighing on their minds a little too heavily today.

In the first half in particular, much of the success had by the other lot came down our right. I had neither the energy nor inclination to try to diagnose the problem, but the quartet of lilywhites covering that patch of land (Doherty, Bale, Hojbjerg and Sanchez) between them seemed pretty ill-equipped even to understand what was happening around them, let alone address it.

Doherty in particular gave the impression of a defender on life-support, repeatedly outfoxed by his opponents’ mind-blowing tactic of kicking the ball past him and running. The excuse repeatedly trotted out for this pest is that he is a wing-back, not a full-back, as if this is akin to asking a right-handed fast bowler to design a spaceship, and not something that should be expected of him. Utter rot.

In my calmer moments I actually consider that Doherty is someone who has shown enough in recent seasons to suggest that he will, if still around next campaign, eventually come good. Today, however, he was a shambles, whether in possession or trying to defend.

(Bale, it seemed, took one look at the car crash unfolding behind him and decided to steer well clear. One understands the sentiment, I suppose, but it’s hardly mucking in with the boys.)

3. Sanchez

Another week, and another blot on the Davinson Sanchez escutcheon. Apparently some are arguing that the penalty should not have been awarded; and by the letter of the law perhaps it should not, I did not stick around for the debate. My misgiving about the whole incident was that Sanchez saw fit to clatter into an opponent in the penalty area. Irrespective of what other events were unfolding, that course of action stacked the odds against him. Pull off a stunt like that and immediately the ref has a reason to take action.

It was actually something of a shame, because while Sanchez never has and never will inspire me with the slightest confidence, he was somehow getting things right. Blocks, headers, timing of challenges: all the parts of his game that have me covering my eyes with hands and muttering fevered prayers, in these this afternoon he seemed to emerge triumphant.

But such is the lot of a centre-back. I’m not sure it does much good to turn in an impeccable 89 minutes, if you fill your remaining 60 seconds flattening opposing attackers in the penalty area.

4. Negative Approach

I have no idea who gives the orders to our lot as they limber up, as I am scandalously excluded from the inner sanctum of the club at such times, but after games like these the anthem on my lips is, “Accident, or design?”

That is to say, is it simply an unhappy stroke of fate that our lot mooch gormlessly around the pitch for an hour showing minimal intent to break forward (until they eventually, inevitably, concede and have to)? Or do they conduct themselves with such apathy because someone in the upper echelons has force-fed them the instruction to act in precisely such manner?

All neither here nor there of course. It wouldn’t make much difference if the instructions were being delivered by a booming voice from the clouds, as the net effect is one we have witnessed pretty regularly. We defend, and defend, and only bother attacking once behind.

While at least avoiding the ignominy of defending along the edge of our own area, our heroes did not cover themselves in glory for the first hour or so, by seeming oddly indifferent as to whether or not they had the ball. Whereas the other lot gave the impression of familiarity with the equation that the scoring of goals facilitates the winning of games, those in lilywhite appeared pretty relaxed about the flow of events. “If Arsenal want to attack”, went the thought process of our eleven, “then who are we to interfere?”

That our only shot in the first half brought about a goal seemed to be taken as vindication by those involved that all was well with the world. However, the fact that the other lot twice hit the woodwork during this period, rather than jolting anyone into alternative action, was seemingly taken as further evidence that everything was under control, and even after they equalised the plan remained unmoved: just bob gently about the place, and everything will be alright in the end.

That it took the unholy combination of falling behind and having a man sent off to prompt any change of approach was about as frustrating as these things get, not least because thereafter came the astonishing discovery that if we went and attacked our chances of scoring improved exponentially.

One is tempted to suggest that there is a salutary lesson in there, but it would be a stretch to assume that the combined brain power of those strolling the corridors of power will do anything to change this approach in the next big game we play.

Fulham 0-1 Spurs: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. The Front Four

Not sure how well versed you are on your scripture, but as I recall there’s one wheeze in The Good Book along the lines of Character A bumping into Character B, who – and this is crucial to the plotline – happens to be pregnant, with the punchline that on seeing Character A, it is reported by Character B that “the child in her womb leapt for joy”.

A pretty rummy line, and not something I can personally relate to, having, for various reasons, not experienced a child or indeed a womb myself – but had I been so blessed it is absolutely nailed on that the child would not just have leapt but would have performed an Irish jig at seeing the teamsheet yesterday. The universal reaction amongst all lilywhites of my acquaintance on learning of the starting eleven was one of barely containable excitement, as the star-studded quartet of Kane, Son, Bale and Dele was unleashed.

That said, the gratification was not quite instant, with Fulham inconsiderately deciding to start on the front foot for the first 10 minutes or so, and our lot revealing a pretty sizeable disconnect between defence and attack. However, when things did click it was pretty fruity stuff, and the fact that Fulham were still waltzing into our area a little too easily when in possession simply added to the feel that this whole thing was an Ossie Ardiles ’94 tribute act.

It will be interesting to see how stronger teams cope, but when our front four did purr last night there wasn’t a great deal Fulham could do to stop it. In time one would imagine that their interplay will improve, if the telepathy between Sonny and Kane extends to the other two; and, being an indulgent sort, I’d rather like to see the various band members interchange positions and go a-wandering.

As it was, Sonny obediently stayed out on the left, presumably because Bale had announced that he intended to stick to the right, with Kane varying his longitude if not his latitude. I’m not sure of the extent of the tactical coaching this mob received, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Jose simply told them to toddle out there and do as they please, relying on their individual quality to do the necessary. It certainly brought about enough clear first half chances to have more than just the single goal.

In that respect Harry Kane deserves a slap on the wrist and a spell on the naughty step, as he was guilty of the sort of basic errors in front of goal that, had they been committed by Vinicius, would have had us booting him out the door and hurling a suitcase and his passport after him.

2. Dele Alli

The star of the show was probably Dele. While the headlines have been grabbed by his glaring miss that turned into an own goal by the chap next to him, the existential point he made by simply popping up in the area at that moment, with a good sense of dramatic timing, did a lot to justify his inclusion.

In a team so heavily reliant upon Son and Kane for the beginning, middle and end of its goals, Dele’s presence and natural inclinations to tiptoe forward immediately open up new routes to goal, and as such give fresh headaches to opposing defences.

On top of his attacking threat, I feel legally obliged to mention that he also knuckled down to the meat and veg of a midfielder’s role, performing such unglamorous tasks as tracking back, making tackles and helping to dab possession about the place. However, the principal benefits he brought were in the attacking spots, which does make one wonder why the hell Jose saw fit to kick him out of the squad for the first two thirds of the season, but I suppose life is full of such mysteries.

3. Ndombele

Having missed out on parity by a whisker with the last kick of the first half, Fulham decided to try the same approach in the second, with the result that we spent a full 45 minutes clinging on for dear life against a team that for all intents and purposes is from the division beneath us. From the Championship they came, and to the Championship they will return, but this did not stop them relentlessly attacking us and coming within one rulebook absurdity of equalising.

Every time our defence desperately thwacked the ball clear it came back at us, as the concept of hanging onto the thing seemingly lost on those members of the collective who were stationed further north.

The whole nerve-shredding spectacle did make me stop and wonder about the role of Ndombele in these scenarios. No matter how many times and how large the phrase “Defensive Midfielder” is stamped across his frame, it does not alter the fact that here is a chap who looks longingly at his attacking chums on the other side of the halfway line, desperately wanting to remove himself to such sunnier climes.

This seemed to be emphasised by the fact that he raced forward over halfway at every opportunity, not even really caring about the specific destination as long as he could glimpse the sight of the opposition goalposts and take a few gulps of oxygen from the Fulham half.

Which is all well and good, and is the sort of back-up act that makes the dreamy front four even more irresistible; but when he is stationed as one of two chappies sitting in front of the back four, there is something of a statutory requirement that he puts on his defensive hat and offers some protection.

Alas, he didn’t offer much in this department. If anything I noticed Dele’s defensive contributions more than his. This is not so much a criticism of Ndombele himself, more an observation that if we are going to field a stardust-sprinkled front four then we probably do require something a bit more solid behind them.

4. Davinson Sanchez

For the second successive game I was struck by the thoroughly disorienting sensation that Davinson Sanchez was, just about, doing an adequate job of keeping intruders at bay. Much though I would like to, I cannot really bring myself to describe him as a reassuring presence back there, as he does give the impression that calamity is only one opposing stepover away.

However, he stuck to his task yesterday, and by and large emerged in credit with a number of solid interventions and tackles to his name. There were a couple of moments, notably one at the very end of the first half, when it seemed that the ghost of Gundogan had returned, and threatened to leave him writhing on the floor again, but he recovered well and generally did the necessaries.

Ultimately, I thought his night was rather summed up by the disallowed goal: an agricultural clearance (which is better than no clearance at all), combined with a spot of luck, with the net result that the clean sheet remained intact.

In the final analysis it is a bit difficult to get one’s head around things: two consecutive wins is excellent stuff; albeit the opposition have been relegation strugglers; the front four could potentially light up our end to the season; yet our defence remains pretty wobbly at best. Luckily the games come so quickly these days there isn’t much time to dwell on these imponderables.

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