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All Action No Plot's Michael Lacquiere's Take On Things..
3 months ago
Spurs 3-0 Man Utd: Five Lilywhite Observations
1. Familiar Beginnings
I don’t mind admitting that when the opening toot sounded and the assembled cast got stuck in, I started to get the sense that I had seen this thing before. Déjà vu all over again, as the chap put it. The sight of our heroes being harried to within an inch of their lives every time they tried to put a foot on the ball took me right back to the sepia-tinted era that was last weekend, when our heroes were harried to within an inch of their lives every time they tried to put a foot on the ball.
Man Utd cunningly took a leaf out of Liverpool’s book from last Saturday, and as a result the first half hour was not quite the cakewalk one would have expected against such lowly cannon-fodder.
Such events rather try the soul, and although a switch was flicked somewhere around the half-hour mark, producing a mini-glut of chances for us, this whole jamboree had a decidedly iffy ring to it. In fact, sages across the land were busily proclaiming that this whole epic would be settled by not more than a single goal - when out of the blue our lot went suddenly got wind of the free drinks on offer and went absolutely beserk. And within five minutes the case was closed and jigs were being danced.
It will presumably be swallowed up within the broader narrative of Titles and seven points and all the accompanying furore, but our lot can allow themselves a cheery tipple tonight, in the first place for refusing to be shoved completely off track during that frantic opening salvo.
A bonus drop of the good stuff ought also to be put away as a reward for capitalising upon the breakthrough and really making sure the dagger went in right up to the hilt, and was then twisted for good measure. We may have battled hard for the first, but there is nothing like kicking a team when they are down, and turning one-nil into three-nil in the blink of an eye is a pointed indication of the hell-bent desire to win amongst our heroes.
And with the hard work done the party tricks could then be unfurled, and a few charming serenades sounded by the lusty-voiced choir, which is all part of the fun when you think about it.
2. Dele Alli
Dele Alli’s goal was very much a Dele Alli goal, if you get my drift. Bursting into the area, timing his run, finding a pocket of space - boxes ticked and off we tootled.
However, the chap has had a struggle of late, finding himself quite the marked man both last week and this. The little cushioned passes were not having the desired effect, every time he tried to look up and pick a pass he found himself being crunched from three different sides and his goalward gallops were generally fizzling out with barely a whiff.
Thank heavens then that his first decent touch in two games gave us the lead. A triumph for perseverance, amongst other things. There is a temptation to expect the consummate all-round performance from the chap literally every game he plays, but the thought now occurs that maybe this is a might unreasonable.
Alli applied the coup de grace to our opener, but several other young beans were involved in the creation of the thing. Kane spotted the run of Eriksen with admirable quick-thinking; and Eriksen displayed the heightened awareness of some sort of freak super-mammal in reverse-passing for Alli to finish; but the whole thing was set in motion by young Lamela scavenging around for scraps on the floor around halfway.
There then followed a slick assist and an equally nifty goal for the young blighter, and that in a microcosm neatly sums up his season – a stomach for the fight, and a decent haul of goals and assists. A grump of my ilk still has little trouble in pinging off a list of things he may improve if he were that way inclined, but no doubt about it, he has raised his game this season, and while he may still be a mere waif of a lad, he dashed well fights the good fight.
While on the subject of bravura performances, I may as well focus upon one for whom my man-love can be dished out with far greater ease, for in his understated way I thought Moussa Dembele thundered about the place with absolute lashings of effortless, monstrous effectiveness.
Particularly within the confines of a game in which every touch was greeted by a swarm of opponents homing in, Dembele simply announced possession of the thing and allowed us to watch as men in red shirts bounced off him. At one point in the first half he appeared to escape from a cul-de-sac by dribbling past half the United team, in a scene reminiscent of some 80s action hero storming through a hail of enemy bullets and emerging unscathed.
When, in the second half, he and Dier got their wires crossed and both went charging for the same ball, I winced and shielded the eyes of the nearest children, fearing that cracks would appear in the sky at impact. Dembele really is the beast that behemoths look to for inspiration.
5. Other Bits and Bobs
Other points of note? Well since you ask, it was nice to see Vertonghen slip back into his overalls as if he had never been away; and in the closing stages there was a little voice in my head rather mischievously pleading for Walker to cast off his self-imposed restraints and thump the chap to kingdom come. It is probably also legitimate to note that in a tight old scrap, the scales began to come down in our favour when that United right-back chappie with the double-whatsit name limped off, but such is the rich tapestry of life I suppose.
The gist of things however is that this Tottenham lot know the game-plan, work ceaselessly for one another and by and large tend to grind other mobs into submission. The Title will sort itself out soon enough, but with the pressure on our heroes they did all that was requested, plus a fair amount in addition, and turning over United 3-0 is not to be sniffed at
3 months ago
Liverpool 1-1 Spurs: Five Lilywhite Oberservations
I’m not sure I’ve ever witnessed a game played in such a rush throughout. Every man and his dog on show charged around like they were late for their own wedding, and as a result not one chappie on either team had time to draw breath, let alone pause in possession and take a second touch.
This must be how other mobs feel when they come up against Spurs, because to their credit Liverpool charged at whichever of our heroes were in possession, particularly in the first half. Our heroes pottered about their business with an odd sense of complacency in those opening exchanges, as if trying a little too hard not to appear disturbed by the constant harassment. Unforced errors duly flowed liberally – again, on both sides – and the whole drama played out with all the harum-scarum intensity of a classroom of 5 year-olds high on soft drinks and sweets. Cagey it most certainly was not.
Grudging credit again to Liverpool for a neat and tidy goal (although a rare finger of admonishment ought to be waggled at Eric Dier, for letting his man go walkies). Then as the second half pootled along the upper hand swung this way and that, and it really did seem we were as close to winning as losing, and vice versa, so that by the end of things I was in truth a little perplexed as to what the overriding sentiment ought to be.
I had tried yesterday, in conversation with some of the regulars, to put across the point that in the grand scheme of such things I felt Dembele’s performance was a little off. Not quite primed, polished and up to usual standards. In my book he was biting off far more than he could chew, and regularly being dispossessed by some combination of two or three in red.
That at least was the intended gist of the thing when I cleared my throat and eyed up my listening public, but I had barely got across the opening ice-breakers when I was being unceremoniously ushered off stage by a stream of rotten tomatoes, that left fairly unmistakeable the general reaction to my notion. So that is pretty much that.
One would not really invest their millions into a campaign with the message that Christian Eriksen Bossed The Thing From Start To Finish. Such is not really his way, and nobody in their right mind would chide him for it.
However, in a game of stakes so high, and with time at such a premium (as whiffled on about above), Eriksen caught the AANP eye, particularly in the second half, for a generous handful of creative moments that attracted the attention like Venus emerging from some sort of mass of water in particularly dreamy fashion.
Lest you be slamming an angry fist on the nearest hard surface and demanding evidence, I decisively thrust in your direction the assist for Kane’s goal for a start - although admittedly this was more an act of desperation to keep the thing in play, rather than an example of semi-deific vision.
More impressive to my eye were the little chipped pass that Dele Alli took on the chest but could not quite bring under control; or the cross-field swipe on the counter-attack that so nearly laid on a chance for Chadli on a plate, with silver service and a respectfully bowing waiter; or the 20-yard effort that drew a full-length save from the ‘keeper. He does not – and perhaps never will – puff out his chest and bark out orders, but Eriksen does do a splendid line in wizardry.
One cannot really fault the effort of Son, the chap certainly does a good line in scuttling hither and thither. There is nevertheless something about the old bean that does not quite sit right, and it has that ineffable quality of being difficult to pinpoint, which is dashed annoying (not least on a word-based forum such as this, but such is life).
He is certainly a tad lightweight for the bustle and nudge of a Premiership ding-dong, which may or may not be his fault. But as well as that, his little bits and bobs just did not seem to work, and have not really done so since those heady debut weeks of his. His performance was summed up rather by that volley in the second half that he executed well but not quite well enough. He strikes me as that sort of player.
In truth, I am not a fully paid-up member of the Lamela fan club either – an improved player, and hard worker, but glancing ahead to Season 16/17 I fancy we would benefit from an upgrade in that position.
5. The Sum Of Things
If Leicester win tomorrow I fancy that might well be that. Either way, I have often ventured to anyone within earshot that watching Spurs will be the death of me, and if this afternoon’s absolutely nerve-shredder is anything to go by, at some point in the remaining six games I genuinely will keel over and tiptoe my way off this mortal coil.
The disappointment at not closing the gap is unavoidable, but if, come mid-May, we miss out by two points, I’m not sure anyone can hold today’s performance against them. Every sinew was duly strained, and we might equally have lost the thing as won it. The Arsenal home game is that one that still bugs me, if we’re counting such things, but today’s was a race run well enough
4 months ago
Germany 2-3 England: Three Observations (Spurs-Tinted)
Admittedly only a friendly, but nevertheless one of those jamborees to have you climbing a rooftop and ringing a bally great big bell. A performance and comeback with an almighty amount of biff, and against no lesser opponents than the world champions, this felt like one to get the rowdier members of the parish council standing up and paying heed.
1. Tottenham Core
During an international break it takes a particular breed of toothsome fruitiness to stir AANP from the wine cellar, but the more eagle-eyed amongst you will have noticed that the quill has indeed been applied to parchment. At the nub of the thing is a sentiment that cannot have escaped every beady eye – namely that the best England performance in a month of Sundays was founded upon a core of players that had a distinct lilywhite gloss to them.
The high pressing, high-tempo approach to life, which just about throttled the life out of the Germans, will have looked mighty familiar to anyone who has pootled along the roads of N17 in recent months. This, oddly enough, was an England team playing the image of Tottenham. Every time they lost the ball they swarmed as one to win it back, looking every inch like a team of excitable beasts let off the leash, and having served Spurs to the point of a Title-pop this season, the same recipe dashed well appeared to put the World Cup winners to the sword.
As if to add a pinch of subtlety to the comparison, this England team was fashioned from a backbone of Dier, Alli and Kane, who pretty much set the standard for things by putting into effect a meaty combo of ball-winning, harassment and some gloriously slick interplay. This Spurs core, right down the centre of the pitch, set the tone, and while it struck me that Henderson, Lallana, Welbeck and chums were not quite charging their glasses with quite the same gusto, they certainly got the gist of things.
2. Back Four (And In Particular The Centre-Backs)
So when piling forwards our heroes certainly seemed braced for matters, cane in hand and hat tipped just so, but at the back one could not help feeling a less enthused by matters. The first goal was to a large extent just the way the cookie crumbles, what with poor old Butland having to alternate between broken ankle and unbroken ankle for an unfortunate minute or so. A black mark against young Dier, it should be noted, in failing to prevent the Kroos shot, but in the grand scheme of things this was not one to bring civilisation to its knees.
The second goal, however, was a different kettle of fish, not least because it was of the ilk that England seem to concede so dashed regularly. Against Balotelli and Suarez in the World Cup I seem to recall relatively straightforward balls into the area causing no end of bedlam within our back four. And as sure as night follows day, on Saturday night the England centre-backs again paraded around like toddlers in blindfolds, befuddled to within an inch of their lives by the combination of leather orb and lurking top-notch attacker. Not an easy task for them, granted, but progress in an international tournament will require a somewhat tighter padlock around the rear entrance, because Europe’s finest do not hang around for a snifter and cigar when presented with half a sight of the England net.
3. The Rooney Conundrum
Pop into your video box a flashback to Euro 2004 and its qualifiers, and I dare say you will rub your eyes in a heightened state of wonder, near enough agog at the sight of a young Wayne Rooney tearing through various European defences like a young bull doing his best to destroy a china shop in double-quick time. Fast forward a few birthdays, and Rooney’s performances tend to veer a little closer to ridiculous than sublime. The occasional eye-goggling volley does certainly ping into the top corner with the sweetness of a ripened nut, but as often as not the chap’s first touch seems to have packed its travel bag and wandered off for an extended sabbatical.
Given the general aplomb with which the England front five (or so) swagger this way and that as they go about their lawful business, one spots the issue at a pretty nifty rate of knots. This England attack is dashed well primed, with Alli behind Kane, pacy options in the wider areas and substitutes offering various combinations of speed and trickery. Barrelling Rooney into the midst of this is rather like attempting one of those awkward long-division sums as a child, that ends up with an answer of 17 but with a calamitous remainder of 13 or so, that just causes headaches whichever way one stares at the paper.
All eyes then on wise old Corporal Hodgson, who on the one hand has pledged understandable allegiance to his captain – who did after all make a habit of finding the net during the 100% qualifying campaign – but on the other hand will not be oblivious to the strengths of this new-look, all-singing, all-dancing England.
One notable addendum to this is the fact that despite his appearance as a kindly grandfather with no particular clue about how to operate the remote control, Hodgson does actually have a history of turning his baseball cap back to front and making some eye-catching calls. Cast your minds back to the last World Cup, and when James Milner appeared to offer the safety-first option in our opener against Italy, Hodgson inked himself a tattoo on his arm, moodily answered back to his parents and threw Raheem Sterling into the thick of the thing. The chap, it seems, moves in mysterious ways his team selections to perform
4 months ago
Spurs 3-0 Bournemouth: Six Lilywhite Observations
1. Fast Start
No time to bed in and have a few early sighters, not with our lot. The opening toot of the whistle was the signal for the hounds to be released, and before one even had time to pour a stiff something into a tumbler and give it a swirl, young Kane was already racing away to dish out back-slaps and “What hos”.
Many a sage has trotted out the slightly peculiar adage that the best time to score is just before half-time – I’ll be pickled if I know quite why – and there certainly can be occasions when an early goal actually has a negative effect – disrupting game-plans, spurring on the opposition etc (I’m looking at you, England-Germany in Euro ’96).
But on this occasion a goal in the opening 44 seconds was happened to be the exact scribbling on the doctor’s prescription, absolutely verbatim. This Sunday kick-off business by and large means that every time we kick off we are already a decent glug behind Leicester in the timetable, and the tension around the place was lingering in a none-too-healthy way as the clock ticked down to 4pm today – so credit in abundance to Messrs Walker and Kane for coming up with the idea of scoring in the first minute. For thereafter our lot oozed confidence, Bournemouth looked like a team who would willingly run for the hills if the laws of the game allowed such things, and the whole jamboree resembled a fairly breezy cakewalk.
2. Top-Notch First Half
The first half was very much the stuff of the new-look, consistent and effective Tottenham. A world away from the Spurs who made my childhood such dashed agony, it appeared that confidence, rather than perspiration, oozed from the pores, as our heroes kept the ball for what seemed like full ten-minute stretches at a time and ground down the opponents with relentless efficiency. The full-backs set up camp alongside the midfielders, chances were carefully created, every man in lilywhite bobbed along with a spring in their step and all was right with the world.
Understandably enough the energy and enthusiasm dials appeared to be turned down considerably in the second half, as frankly the first half contained so many spoilers that we all knew how things would turn out fairly early on. And as our heroes dozily toyed with Bournemouth in the second half, every inch as flies to wanton boys, the thought struck me – ought we to have demonstrated the more clinical edge, of say a City or Chelsea of yesteryear? In their title-winning pomp, City have not simply gone through the motions in such instances, but instead put opponents to the sword and racked up five, six, seven.
Or did it make more sense simply to do as our lot did, take no risks, avoid any over-exertion, and simply see the thing out? Given that our goal difference is already comfortably superior to the other mobs, there is a strong case to be made for suggesting that our heroes got things absolutely spot on today. Three nil with minimal effort is more than enough at this stage of the thing.
Not a criticism, you understand, more of an idle musing as things wound down in the latter stages. (Although during those latter stages, we still came dashed close to scoring one of the goals of the season – that moment with the nifty Eriksen footwork and a few one-touch passes, before Alli got himself in a muddle and shot wide.)
With the game up before the hour mark, the next point of interest was the substitutes’ bench, as seasoned people-watchers subjected Pochettino to the usual scrutiny. I must confess I found myself raising an intrigued eyebrow as his first action was to give young Lamela the hook, particularly as the game was won. With Dier having been an injury doubt beforehand, and Alli, Demebele etc fairly critical to the upcoming denouement, it surprised me a smidge that one of the supporting cast was deemed ripe for plucking.
Still, Pochettino has demonstrated many a time and oft that he knows his apples from his oranges, so I will graciously allow him the benefit of the doubt. He will, no doubt, be thrilled.
4. What Now For Full-Back Rotation?
There are few sights in nature more eye-catching than young Kyle Walker flicking the switch to Turbo and absolutely steaming forward 50 yards to join an attack, and having struck oil with his very first foray he remained in the mood throughout.
The routine of swapping him and Rose for Trippier and Davies appears to have worked well enough, ensuring that all of them have enough puff in their lungs for their weekly assignment – but with our heroes now having been unceremoniously elbowed from European competition, I am intrigued to see what the official party line will be for full-backs in the coming weeks. There is now but one game a week, yet Pochettino is a man who will swap his full-backs if his own life depended upon retaining the same ones. An interesting little sub-plot, and for what it’s worth I think he will stick with Walker-Rose as the games tick by and push meets shove.
5. Vindication for Rotation
On the subject of rotation, Pochettino is far too polite a sort to brag, but having been subjected to various snuffles of disapproval (not least from within the four walls of AANP Towers) for abruptly deciding to wave the white flag at Dortmund in the last few weeks, our glorious leader will presumably allow himself a discreet nod of satisfaction that the resting of various luminaries in midweek paid off so handsomely this afternoon.
Credit where due, and if our lot do indeed wave the shiny thing around come May, nobody will care two hoots about squad rotation in Dortmund.
6. Wimmer Tribute
The whispers from behind the bike-shed suggest that Jan Vertonghen will be ready to burst back onto the scene, singing, dancing and looking immaculately coiffured, after the international break. Should that be the case he would, naturally enough, be welcomed back with a manly handshake and possibly a rugged back-slap, but if events should indeed transpire thusly, it seems only right to pay a brief but heartfelt tribute to his young deputy, Kevin Wimmer.
Despite appearing oddly like he ought to be wearing a tux and playing the bassoon in an orchestra somewhere, the chap has managed to put barely a foot wrong in the last few months. When Vertonghen limped off against Palace there were furrowed brows across N17, as we wondered whether our Title push was limping off with him, but Wimmer has patrolled the grounds with considerable aplomb.
There are ten others who can justifiably feel a tad miffed at having not had their five minutes here at AANP Towers tonight, for this was a top-notch stuff throughout the team. Sterner tests await no doubt, but while we could not win the league today, we could well have lost it had things gone South today. A most professional performance to take us into the international break. Merry Easter one and all
4 months ago
Spurs 2-2 Arsenal: Five Dashed Frustrated Lilywhite Observations
1. A Dampish Squib
I suspect I was not the only one who, as matters progressed yesterday, found myself murmuring “Not so good, not so good. ” The opening salvos were dished out well enough, and the ten-minute spell after the red card obviously had us all leaping from our seats like men possessed. Those shimmers aside however, this was decidedly not one that will have us gathering the grandchildren around the knee in decades to come.
The hows and whys of this particular dampish squib will require a fair amount of head-scratching and chin-stroking from our glorious leader. As mentioned, our heroes appeared to have the basics right in the opening few moments – facing the right way, stringing the passes along, slapping a few long-range efforts towards the chap in goal – but none of it was of the ilk to blow up anyone’s skirt. For all the scurrying and scuttling, we just weren’t getting anywhere.
And then before you knew it, we were one-down, it was the second half, and the concept of bludgeoning our way back into the game seemed to be the last thing on anyone’s minds. The brow furrowed.
Mercifully, that horrible lot from down the road had included in their ranks The Village Idiot, and his suitably dim-witted departure was more or less the equivalent of politely opening the door, waving us through, taking our coats from our shoulders and offering a glass of champagne. We could not have been ushered back into the game more agreeably, and at 2-1 with 20 minutes to go against ten men the thing really ought to have been beyond question.
But it wasn’t, and we didn’t, and so on and so forth. Consensus seems to have landed somewhere between ‘Fatigue’ and ‘Nerves’, which is fair enough on both counts. But nevertheless. This was not just supposed to be a toe-to-toe, tentative jabbing sort of affair. This was supposed to be the one in which we ripped Arsenal limb from limb and laughed manically at their bloodied torsos, then marched on irresistibly towards Leicester.
Moreover, I can fairly decidedly mark a big black cross across the phrase “Rotten Luck”, because if anything the gods of these things more or less nodded more in our direction. The goal-line technology moment could broadly be classified as a might unfortunate, given that around eight ninths of the ball were behind the line, but rules is rules and the incident was little more than a footnote.
Instead, one might fairly validly point out that if the chappie had not got his red card we would probably have continued huffing and puffing all night to no avail. The advantage bestowed was certainly not one of our making.
On top of which, young Master Dier did rather well to keep his head down and wander off into the crowds when caught red-handed, on CCTV and in front of a global audience of near enough a billion. Admittedly one or two others also appeared to escape second bookings – but the gist of the thing was that our luck was decidedly in. And still, we talked our way out of a victory.
Perhaps symbolic of how oddly uncooked they all looked was the performance of Monsieur Lloris. By and large one of the finer purveyors of such things, he pootled along sensibly enough yesterday until given his first significant piece of work – at which point he managed no more than to flap a soggy hand at the source of trouble, and the ball skidded and scuttled its way through almost apologetically.
On a related note, both yesterday and against West Ham, Lloris’ general attitude towards any backpasses nudged his way was to tapdance around the thing and invite all manner of trouble, which does no end of mischief to the constitution of those watching. It is absolutely beyond me why the chap cannot perform absolutely flawlessly for every single minute of every single occasion he plays for us.
4. Bright Spots
A tradition here at AANP Towers in the late hours of a weekend is to pour a glass of bourbon and muse on the standout lilywhite performances of the weekend, but this evening the task is by no means straightforward. The whole thing was oddly lacking in ripsnort, and as a result, of standout performers there are few.
Dembele certainly rolled around the pitch with the languid air of a man fully aware that he is a couple of levels ahead of the rest, but otherwise there were slim pickings. Rose was a self-contained conundrum, pounding forward enough to cause opposition concern, but invariably slapping his crosses against the nearest defender. The back-four dealt with the move which led to Arse’s second with all the alacrity of an elite group of napping elephants, and further up the pitch the whizz and bang of weeks gone by was a little lacking. It was no disaster, but all a might underwhelming, given building the pre-match crescendo.
5. Kane goal
A dashed shame that Kane’s goal will be lost within the detail, because that was arguably the best of his lot so far. It reminded one of a cocky young sailor stepping ashore and sweeping the nearest young maiden off her feet – and the place duly erupted as if they had witnessed a North London derby winner of the highest order. Oh that the rest of them had read the script, but one must take the rough with the smooth.
A most peculiar barrel of eggs then, with its highs and lows standing shoulder to shoulder, but the nub of things is that chasing this Title has become a darned sight harder. On to the next one
5 months ago
Spurs 2-1 Swansea: Four Lilywhite Observations
1. “It Absolutely Will Not Stop…”
By golly that was relentless stuff, what? Sends you out with a song on your lips, to see a Tottenham team spend around 89 of their allotted 90 hammering away at the door. Having had two weeks off to sun themselves and whatnot, one would think the Swansea mob will need another fairly lengthy lie-down, not to mention a bracing snifter or two, because they were subjected to an absolute non-stop barrage today, the poor mites. I have not witnessed such an incessant pummelling since – well, truth be told we did something fairly similar a couple of days ago against Fiorentina, but nevertheless. Our heroes appear to be well and truly off the leash.
It was all akin to the relentless, remorseless, unflinching pursuit of a Terminator, except that rather being saved by a plucky chap from the future who happened to be his own father or some such gubbins, this time Skynet battered away until they won. Rather a shame for humanity, and it would leave the machines with little more to do than pootle along playing checkers with one another, but the thread of the thing is that having once resembled a gaggle of playful little lambkins, our heroes now rattle along with fire in bellies and the scent of blood in their flared nostrils. Which is by and large the stuff of you-know-whats.
2. Recovering From Losing Positions
Falling behind was not exactly in the game-plan, and the vaguely fortunate manner of the ‘assist’ one would have understood if our heroes had taken a minute out of proceedings to congregate in the centre and throw their arms aloft as one to bemoan their wretched luck.
Not a bit of it. These days, the hows and whys and wherefores seem not to matter to our lot, to the tune of 17 points rescued from losing positions so far this season. As such, the reaction to going one down was a collective up-rolling of sleeves, and muttered oath of re-commitment to Plan A, namely the incessant piling forward of every man and his dog, and slinging along the kitchen sink for good measure. Thirty-four shots on goal is testament to this, and whereas in previous weeks I have taken the liberty of politely clearing the throat when the topic of Final-Third Ingenuity is raised, this time the flow of events suggested that an equaliser was as inevitable as night following day.
3. Dembele-Replacement Techniques
The ongoing absence of Dembele no doubt threatens to send the Title challenge skidding fairly drastically off-course, for one cannot simply pluck such a beast from the midst of things and expect the regulars to continue nibbling the profiteroles and making polite small-talk. Mercifully, and without wanting to be too unkind to the chap, young Carroll is also off-radar at the moment with a broken thumbnail, so whereas Carroll-for-Dembele has been the curious default option of Pochettino in weeks gone by, ‘twas not an option today, ye gods be praised.
Moreover, instead of slotting in one of the more typical terrier types to do their best Dembele impression (a Bentaleb or Mason, if you will), Pochettino rather charmingly decided that precious little further back-four protection and midfield steel would be required today, and dispensing with all niceties about showing respect to the opposition and suchlike, he dropped Eriksen a little deeper, threw in Son and Lamela, and unleashed the battle-plan marked ‘All Guns Blazing, What? ’
Naturally, here at AANP Towers such attack-minded fare was greeted with an eardrum-splitting thumbs up, and as it transpired it was a jolly successful ploy. The need for a Dembele-esque bulldozer was minimal, given that there was barely a midfield battle to be won – the gist of things instead following a pattern of lilywhite bombardment upon a ten-man Swansea defence.
Eriksen it seemed to me rather enjoyed skipping around in the deeper areas, his little grey cells ticking over as he slipped in weighted passes hither and thither, prodding for an opening. In tougher matches – this Wednesday away to West Ham for a start – I would guess that this attack-heavy approach might be weighted a little too heavily towards the gung-ho side of life, but today it did the necessaries.
On days such as these, when life ticks by in a never-ending string of Tottenham attacks, it is easy to neglect the poor chaps at the other end, who silently plod along keeping everything just so, but by golly we owe a debt and a half to Monsieur Lloris today. In truth we owe him just about every game, but the saves he so delightfully modelled at either end of proceedings were a gentle poke in the ribs to all observers, reminding us that any binge at the Title requires a fairly nifty guardian of things at the uncomfortable end.
And there’s the rub, if you stop and squint at it. Six wins in a row, eleven games left, and so on and so forth. I rather fear that the six-game winning streak might cough and splutter somewhat, away to West Ham on Wednesday, but who knows? There are fewer better places to be on this mortal sphere than sitting on the shoulder of the leader as we rumble into the finishing straight
5 months ago
Fiorentina 1-1 Spurs: Naughty Dele Alli & 5 Other Lilywhite Notes
1. Who’s a Naughty Boy?
Every man and his dog in the television studios greedily lapped up the opportunity to pontificate like there was no tomorrow over Dele Alli’s latest indiscretion, and in truth one can understand it. The seasoned lilywhite observers will no doubt be well aware of young Master Alli’s penchant for the naughty. The furtive elbow into the ribs here, the trailing leg there and a generally irresistible urge to start a push-and-shove with anyone in the vicinity at least once per game.
Those of us who have been brought up on a strict diet of powderpuff Tottenham midfielders who can spray a delightful pass but would rather run for the hills than go crunching into a 50-50 will frankly be delighted with the attitude of young Alli. The last thing anyone wants is for the chap to retreat into his shell and pootle along in the shadows of each game – and in all honesty the chances of that actually happening are just about nil. More than likely, we will probably have to resign ourselves to the fact that every now and then Alli will be yanked aside by an eagle-eyed ref and told in no uncertain terms to remove himself from proceedings. So be it, for as anyone who has ever stared up at a guillotine will know, there comes a time in life when you just have to take the rough with the smooth. (Whether I will be quite so sanguine when picking up the pieces of his red cards is another matter). On a related note – worth a wager, for those who are that way inclined, on the fellow getting himself sent off at the Euros, what with the continental referees and all that nonsense.
2. Confidence – A Preference to the Habitual Voyeur
I have not paid too much attention to the vagaries of Italian club football since the halcyon days of Gazza, Winter Signori et al, to the glorious soundtrack of “goooooolaaaaazzzzooooo” back in the early ‘90s. As such I have absolutely no idea what sort of standard Fiorentina are these days, or the strength of their XI that toddled out. Either way, it was pretty striking that until the (dashed fortunate) equaliser our heroes looked relatively comfortable. In the first half in particular we looked every inch the home side, such was our level of possession, and confidence on the ball. Given that we started similarly against City on Sunday, it did make me wonder, when exactly was the last time we played an away match in the traditional style of an away team? The point I’m harping about is that it seems a further testament to the progress of our heroes, that irrespective of opposition, venue or general prevailing social norms, even as an away team they tend to yank hold of initiative, confidence positively coursing through the veins, and just strut about like they own the place.
3. Protection for the Back-Four & The Bentaleb Scenario
For all that first half dominance, there were nevertheless a couple of occasions when Fiorentina worked their way jolly close to our goal, even at nil-nil and nil-one. The usual Dier-shaped protection that hovers in front of (and alongside) the back-four was rather conspicuously absent, and neither Mason nor Carroll quite delivered the same meaty chunks of goodness. There is no parallel universe in existence in which the replacement of Carroll with Dembele is a bad idea, and naturally enough the latter’s demonstration of muscle proved a marked contrast to the neat, tidy but lightweight bits and bobs of the former. Nevertheless, the point was made – Dier reaches the parts that various other central midfielders cannot.
Amidst all this the absence of Bentaleb was a curious one – it may be that he was simply injured? But if not, conspiracy theorists the world over will be shelving their moon-landing projects and tucking into the Great Bentaleb Disappearance story instead.
Pochettino for all his lovely cuddliness evidently does not suffer fools gladly, so it may be that Bentaleb has fallen foul of the law. Obviously heaven forbid that anyone should question the judgement of the great man, but it would be a wistful AANP who digested such a decision, if indeed such a decision has been made, because Bentaleb bears his canines with a darned sight more menace than Mason or Carroll when patrolling in front of the back line.
Cruise control was rather rudely interrupted in the second half, by that deflected goal. It would be rather rich of us to complain about bad luck after Sunday’s events, but nevertheless we are probably entitled to take thirty seconds out of our rigorous daily routines to feel sorry for ourselves for the manner in which that equaliser looped in. Somewhere in the mists of time, Paul Parker and Peter Shilton are no doubt offering sympathetic inclines of the head.
That said, Mason could have broken into a gallop and worked up a full-blooded body-fling in an attempt to prevent the shot; and while Vorm’s travel bag is no doubt full to the brim with benefit of the doubt proffered from all sides, I am inclined to think he might have done better than that tangled flap. But then here at AANP Towers we always did prefer the stick to the carrot.
Once the goal was scored the match changed fairly dramatically. Credit to our heroes for weathering the initial storm that followed, and as the game edged towards its final toot events panned out in a manner that could be appropriately described as ‘To and Fro’, but the whole binge was far less comfortable than it might have been. Without exactly being overrun, we could well have lost the thing.
5. The Attack
For all the energy, and confidence, and possession, and all those similarly positive epithets that seem to be plastered over our every performance these days, the nagging concern remains at AANP Towers that when it comes to the final third, our lot are still one or two kippers short of a full English breakfast. An attempt was made to beef things up in the closing stages by bringing on Kane for Son, but it’s the supply-line as much as the anointed striker - we still lack a certain je any sais quoi when it comes to carving up an opponent as if gutting a fish. The occasional neat diagonal pass does not an irresistible force make.
In fact, the majority of our attacking thrust comes from any of our four full-backs, and Davies and Trippier certainly flew the flag with gusto today, at least when on the front foot. Davies’ latest forward burst brought a penalty, and by the end of the game Trippier appeared to be our principal attacking outlet, pitching up every sixty seconds or so on the corner of the opposition penalty area with a cheery wave, ready to whip in his latest offering.
6. “Vital” Away Goal
It is, of course, a legal requirement that any away goal scored in the first leg of a European tie is automatically classified as “vital”. Non-vital away goals simply do not exist. Which makes it all the more regrettable that the whole fabric of the European away-goal continuum could have been broken if we had capitalised upon our opening hour serenity by pilfering a couple more away goals, rendering them all non-vital, and turning things into a straightforward three-goal lead to defend at the Lane.
I’ll start again. In the grand scheme of things, one-one away from home can be greeted with cautious optimism, but this does feel rather like doing things the traditionally Tottenham way. Advantage lilywhite, but plenty of perspiration still to go. The nifty squad rotation was a qualified success, but next week will be no cakewalk and so on and so forth. You get the gist
5 months ago
City 1-2 Spurs: 7 Lilywhite Observations
1. Dreamland (For Now)
As my ill-treated cardiovascular system desperately creaked its way through those wretched “four minutes” of injury-time, I noted today – and not for the first time - that watching Spurs will presumably one day be the death of me. Having been in something approaching rude health at kick-off (a brief social binge to Malta will do that to a man), by minute 94+ I was little more than a slab of meat slung over a chair, fingernails gnawed into submission, and oxygen collected only by the most rudimentary gasps that sounded like a radiator from a bygone era.
A nerve-shredding finale, is what I’m driving at, but heavens above, take a step back and look at the end-product. For the first time in my life - and presumably a decent percentage of lives of the wider Spurs-supporting public - we can dare to dream about the title. Probably not much more than “dare to dream” at this stage, what with the night of a thousand Cup ties waiting to hurl our way key injuries and whatnot, and plenty of meaty league fixtures still standing in our way with folded arms and menacing scowls.
But nevertheless. Only one team in the country would not sidle up to us behind closed doors and surreptitiously offer to trade their position for ours. Twelve games to go, the final straight if you will, and we sit on the shoulder of the leader. Probably best to enjoy the moment, what?
2. A Different Breed These Days
It’s been said many a time in recent weeks and months, but this Tottenham vintage truly is a group that knows how to fry their eggs. A tad short on final-third wizardry they may have been, but in all other areas they functioned like a team of particularly well-oiled robots, rather like in corking 70s flick Westworld before (spoiler) they all went loopy. Ball lost? No problem, ball won back. By about half the team functioning in unison. Tight spot? A moot concern, for in a blur of white movement several players avail themselves – or Dembele just turns and turns again until the spot is considerably more airy. And so on.
All a might deceptive admittedly, because in a first half that strangely resembled a giant game of moving chess, City actually made the better of the chances. That said, it was still encouraging to see the general control and composure being wafted around by our heroes in a game of this magnitude.
However, what really sent the mustard flying was the fact that City reacted to the injustices of life by flicking the switch marked “Warp Speed” and raising their game approximately eleven hundred notches, our heroes absolutely refused to curl up and die like so many of the insects from that experimental period in my primary school days. Whereas Spurs teams in just about every season I have ever watched would ultimately capitulate, gloriously or otherwise, somehow this lot clung on. And then went and won the bally thing.
3. The Lamela Pass, The Eriksen Finish
All season long, over in this corner of the interweb we have viewed the supposed Lamela renaissance with a fair degree of suspicion. The blighter undoubtedly works hard, but moments of creative magic that make one go weak at the knees have tended to be in fairly short supply, and if the chap isn’t doing that then what the heck, if you get my drift.
But credit where due. For whatever reason, those City players in the vicinity did not seem unduly concerned when he sauntered forward, and simply ushered him further into the meat of the thing. So further he duly biffed, before delivering something of a pointed gesture to all his doubters, by threading a delicate pass that could not have had more cheek if it had pulled down its trousers and waggled its exposed posterior. Well weighted, well-targeted and through the legs of a defender for good measure.
On top of which, the resurgent Eriksen appears to have picked up a thing or two about applying a cool coup de grace when the occasion merits. To this untrained eye it appeared at first that the chap had got the thing muddled in his feet, but instead, with all the cunning of a particularly Machiavellian fox he was simply inviting the monstrous Joe Hart to over-commit, before dabbing the ball past him. Slyly done.
And doesn’t he just have the happiest smile when he scores?
In a state of affairs that rather typifies the season, it seems a little inappropriate to single out one chap or another, for this was one of those occasions in which all eleven seemed to blend into a single, slightly compact beast. (Albeit a beast that had a Danny Rose in lieu of a left arm.)
That said, I have absolutely zero problem in contradicting myself in the blink of an eye by singling out several of them. The young chap Wimmer for a start. Rather sharp intakes of breath greeted the sight of Vertonghen being led off Stage Left a few weeks back, but Wimmer has done an admirable job, against some of the sharper tools in the striking box, and it was another intelligent performance from the oddly-shaped Austrian, particularly in the frantic dying embers.
Young Walker was another one who caught the eye. Up against Raheem Sterling he was happy enough to sacrifice the usual upfield gallivant, and instead put all his eggs in the basket marked ‘Deal With That Sterling Blighter’. And then he threatened to ruin it all in the closing stages of the match by unleashing his best Kyle Walker impression and repeatedly tapping the ball to the nearest opponent whilst falling over and generally endangering everything for which we had worked so hard, but isn’t that just part of his charm?
Rose, in the first half in particular, also caught the eye, albeit in the more traditional role of the ultra-attacking full-back (a phrase which comes dangerously close to making no sense). With everyone else in lilywhite jostling to cram themselves into a narrow strip of turf through the centre of the pitch, young Rose seemed to be high on a diet of 80s action heroes and spent the first half in particular getting so caught up in everything that he was quite possibly quipping one-liners with each piece of involvement. If he wasn’t blocking shots by throwing his body full-length at the thing at one end, he was pelting volleys off his own at the other, and so on.
7. Lady Luck
And so to the elephant in the room. As one of the more blinkered, one-eyed, Spurs-tinted spectacle-wearers, my take on the penalty is relatively predictable. However, one or two sages from various ends of the interweb have pointed out that Lady Luck does not look kindly (nor, evidently does Mark Clattenberg) upon multi-million pound footballers who attempt to block a cross by turning their backs on it. Had young Sterling taken a leaf out of the Danny Rose 80s Action Handbook every man and his dog would tonight instead be debating whether Yaya, Yaya Yaya might have got away with a bookable offence or two.
Thus ends one of the best weekends we have had in a while. The next few days at AANP Towers will be spent gazing lovingly at a picture of the Premiership table. The bubble may well burst in time, but for now this is absolutely rip-roaring stuff
5 months ago
Spurs 1-0 Watford: Five Lilywhite Observations
Amongst the many sunny innovations introduced by our glorious leader into N17 is the fact that when it comes to attacking, just about every man and his dog is heartily encouraged to fasten his bayonet, clear his throat and charge straight in. Admittedly Monsieur Lloris is excluded from all the fun, but at any given time we have at least seven men sniffing blood and yowling at the moon. That Kane and the three behind him will be primed to attack is a given, and Dembele is never particularly averse to puffing out his chest and bulldozing forward; but with Eric Dier obediently filling in as a third centre-back whenever we are in possession, licence is also duly granted to the full-backs to go hurtling forward at the merest whiff of an attack. (The casual reader ought to be made aware at this point that the strategy of employing a defensive midfielder to act as a locum third centre-back was first introduced by AANP on Championship Manager in the late ‘90s - albeit to slightly less devastating effect than the current Spurs vintage, as relegation was only avoided on the final day of the season as I recall.)
Back in the realms of the real world, young Messrs Davies and Trippier duly got stuck in like a pair of kids granted the bonus of opening a present on Christmas Eve of all things, as neither could be restrained from tearing forward into the final third. Davies in particular scurried forward like a man possessed, channelling his inner Bale to set up camp in a position about twenty yards from the Leicester by-line, and the afternoon quickly became notable for the sight of him haring off into the area at approximately every thirty seconds.
Not that this gung-ho spirit alone was sufficient to win the game, cure cancer and end global poverty, for Davies’ final ball still tends to miss as well as hit – but no doubt about it, the mere presence of a left-back galloping at them in fifth gear undeniably had the Watford back-line exchanging worried looks, as if to say to one another “What ho!”
A dashed shame that Davies’ forays brought little more than wistful groans from the crowd, for he deserved more. Merrily however, out on t’other flank, Trippier similarly took the hint and, having waved a cheery ‘Adieu’ to his chums in the lilywhite back-four, he spent the afternoon making himself at home in the role of de facto winger, flying forward as the right-sided member of our attacking septet. Clearly such things have an addictive edge, for not content with the role of flying winger he then went the whole hog and turned himself into a Number 9, poaching from inside the six-yard box. Young people will do such things. All a far cry from my days as an eminently forgettable schoolboy right-back when any journey north of the halfway line required a brief lie-down to cope with the drama of it all, but Pochettino knows his apples from his pears, and this season every outfield player is buying into the notion that ‘Someone has to score, dash it, so why not get involved? ’
Mind you, it’s a good job that young Trippier did indeed take time out from the day-job to treat us to his Gary Lineker (circa 80s-90s) impression, because nobody else seemed to have solved the riddle of putting ball in net. Apparently we pinged in 26 shots during the course of yesterday’s binge – 26! - which really begs the question of what on earth is wrong with our heroes’ radars. Admittedly Gomes in the Watford goal was in elastic mood, but nevertheless. One goal from twenty-six shots is the sort of thing that ought to have the whole lot of them queueing up at the confessional. It is more of a side-note than a grumble, but it occurred to me as Watford won their first corner, with about ten minutes remaining, that by that stage the thing really ought to have been tucked up in bed with a soothing lullaby, rather than still hanging in the balance.
4. Lamela – Chadli
Pochettino comes across as far too good an egg to do anything as naughty as make rude gestures or anything similarly dastardly, but I do wonder whether he might have aimed a meaningful look at one or two observers, as he handed in his teamsheet. A fair amount of hot air and ink has been invested in questioning the depth of our squad this season (not least in these quarters, I should probably admit), but having made a habit of swapping his full-backs around like ping-pong balls under paper cups in some sort of magic trick, our glorious leader took his squad rotation to a new level yesterday by fiddling with the knobs and dials further up the pitch. Out went Dele Alli and Sonny Jimbo, and in came Lamela, the furry rodent that sits permanently atop Lamela’s head and Nacer Chadli.
Lamela and Chadli both did adequately enough without exactly leaving grown men quivering in speechless delight, but the proof of the pudding was in the scoreboard at around 16. 52 GMT, and as such we can laud a selection well tinkered. Dele Alli was given some extra time to catch his breath and post on social media, or whatever it is the young folk do these days, and the world was reminded that there are plenty of ensemble members willing and able to slot into the spots behind the front man. And that, in as many words, is just about the point of squad rotation, no?
With Dembele having already had an enforced break this season, and young Wimmer having marked his replacement of Vertonghen with consecutive clean sheets, it appears that squad depth is not necessarily quite the headache that one had anticipated when the clocks went back a few months ago. Indeed, the only chaps whose services seem to be required come hell or high water are Dier (either in midfield or, in the Cups, at centre-back) and Kane. One does not really want to contemplate the consequences of a long-ish term absence of the latter, so we just won’t. The point is, changes can be made but our spine remains strong and the incoming personnel seem capable enough.
5. Second In The League!
And by golly, just look where we are now! Some may suggest that we have been here before, and there would be a modicum of truth in the claim – but not in mid-February, what? At the time of writing we are still at least five points clear of fifth, and still, bizarrely, in with a sniff of the title. Which is simply not a thing I ever thought would happen in my lifetime. My head currently says third, the minimum now must be fourth, and, absurdly, we have an outside shot at the title. A head-scratcher for sure. But given that at the start of the season I had realistically suggested fifth, there already seems reason enough to start sharpening the knives and throwing pointed glances in the direction of the fattened calf. Just about every Spurs fan I know has that sentiment of part-gloom, part-realism deep within their core, and consequently we are all fairly adamant that there something will go wrong between now and mid-May – but I am quite happy to worry about that at the appropriate time. For now, second in the league is a splendid way to end the weekend
5 months ago
5 months ago
6 months ago
Palace 1-3 Spurs: THAT Goal & 4 Other Lilywhite Observations
1. THAT Goal
Hoddle-esque. Gazza-esque. A goal so good you would let it marry your daughter. Words cannot really do justice to the strike and technique itself, so instead I’ll waft over a couple of associated thoughts. The move in its entirety for example, had the jolly pleasing aesthetic quality lent to it by the fact that the ball did not touch the ground from the moment Kane swirled in his cross, to Eriksen’s cushioned header, to Alli’s one-two-three touch, swivel and shot.
On a separate note, young Alli must have one heck of a brand of confidence flowing through his veins, to even contemplate trying a gag like that. ‘Instinct’ seems to be the buzzword, but if he had had the general blues about his game, the way the match had treated him or life in general, he may well have looked simply to shovel the ball back whence it came and let someone else take responsibility. Mind you, he’s never exactly come across as a shrinking violet on the field.
One lilywhite chum messaged me to say that if you look at the ‘onrushing’ Palace defender tasked with blocking the shot, he decides against flinging himself body and soul into the path of the ball, and turns his back on the shot. Channelling his inner Vertonghen, if you will. Now this seems a rather joyless way to critique one of the finest ever lilywhite goals, but on watching the replay I take the point. Let’s not spoil the thing though, what?
2. Blur of Movement
Stepping out onto the balcony and taking a more panoramic view of things, this should go down as another cracking little win, one which hammers home the point that this 2015/16 vintage are not as green as they’re cabbage-looking. For a second consecutive week, the rasping injustice of falling behind in a game we were absolutely dominating was deemed nothing more than a minor inconvenience, and they ploughed ahead with the policy line of jinking one-touch passes around the opposition area. There is nothing particularly new to our heroes about having to work right from the first toot on breaking down two defensive banks of four – our reputation evidently precedes us. What brought a rosy glow to the cheeks on observing events unfold was the bright-eyed and bushy-tailed manner in which they set about the task yesterday.
There have been times in weeks gone by (at least one of the Leicester games, maybe Newcastle at home) when our attempts to penetrate the impenetrable have essentially been, when broken down into raw constituent parts, a series of sideways passes. Earnest and willing, but a little lacking in creativity – more akin to repeatedly shoving a blunt knife at a lock and hoping something will give. Yesterday however there was all manner of off-ball movement, right from the moment the curtain went up. This lent itself fairly naturally to the full range of slick, short, first-time passes; and the gist of the thing was that we buzzed around with intent throughout, and particularly in the first half. Worth lobbing an honourable mention for this week’s chosen full-backs too, who set up camp firmly in the final third of the field, meaning that we also had a cracking spread of busy options spanning the width of the field from right to left. And by extension, the weekly tip of the hat to Dier, whose immaculate positioning enables the attacking juices of the aforementioned full-backs to flow so liberally.
3. The Latest Team Tinkerings
While one broadly understands the gist of things when it comes to Pochettino scribbling down the names of the chosen ones, there are an increasing number of spicy little sub-plots bubbing away under the surface. The full-back hokey-cokey for one thing, and in recent weeks, the choice of Dembele or Carroll (which is hardly a contest at all, but became a matter of concern when the Belgian was returning to fitness). The latest tete-a-tete has been between young Sonny jimbo and Eric Lamela. Son’s bravura midweek performance earned him the nod, and I was jolly glad to see it, for te much-vaunted Lamela Resurgence of 2015-16 has yet to utterly convince in these four walls of the interweb. Yes he certainly beavers away with the right attitude, chasing back and scrapping for things like anyway Pochettino minion should, but the chap’s principal role is as one of our resident Magicians-in-Chief, and in this respect he always seems to underwhelm a tad. Son, however, seemed to work things out pretty quickly, and set out taking on his man and thumping in his shots tout de suite. Given the strength of Chadli’s late cameo as well, I wonder if Lamela has suddenly been bumped down the list of cabs on the rank.
Generally out glorious leader seems to enjoy a degree of structure to his life. Who knows, maybe he is the sort to neatly fold his clothes on a chair the night before, and opt for a couple of Weetabix every morning with a banana for elevenses. Or maybe not. Whatever the case, he tends to avoid tearing up the teamsheet and trying all manner of new and exciting permutations if a like-for-like substitution is available. A polite ripple of applause then, for his decidedly more proactive move yesterday when we were one down, in hooking the ever-dependable Eric Dier, instructing Dembele to operate ten yards further back, and introducing Chadli into the attacking maelstrom. Most obviously, Chadli duly created one, scored a beauty (and delivered an absolute peach of a crossfield ball in the dying moments); and more broadly, it left us with eight outfield players blessed with a natural urge to burst forward and create (plus two ball-playing centre backs).
On top of which, the Pocehttino applecart was duly upset further by the hobble sustained by Vertonghen, which meant that for the first time this season our sacrosanct centre-back duopoly was separated, and young Master Wimmer was introduced. He did well enough, in increasingly frantic circumstances, but certainly had a solid game vs Leicester in midweek.
5. Lady Luck
One to remember next time we don the sackcloth and ashes, and bemoan the way of the world – at one apiece Palace managed to slap the crossbar twice in around five seconds. Crumbs. Mind you, Alli gave the crossbar a hefty thwack himself, so for those who keep track of these things I suppose there is much to ponder.
In the final analysis however, this was a victory well earned, built on superiority rather than good fortune. The first half in particular was absolutely one-way traffic, punctuated only by that blasted own-goal; whilst our three goals were all, in their own ways, absolute snorters – and a five-point gap is now in evidence, between us and the fifth-placed mob
6 months ago
Spurs 4-1 Sunderland: 4 Lilywhite Points of Note
The Return of Dembele
Coincidence? Around these parts we certainly think not. For the last couple of weeks young Master Carroll has been hopscotching around the place, with pretty passes a-plenty and a very serious expression, which does not make him look any less like a 10 year-old but is noble enough. However, if a Dembele performance were to comprise pretty passes and hopscotch I think we could all legitimately worry that some deviant had stolen his very soul. The difference between a Spurs midfield powered (and I use the term in the loosest possible sense) by Carroll and one built on Dembele is pretty noticeable, and with the former traded for the latter we were back to winning ways. Yes he gave away free-kicks, and at times possession, but Dembele also shoved opponents aside and drove things forward. There will potentially be a time and a place for Carroll, and we all ought to get used to his waif-like frame as he is evidently one of the little brood of younglings that Pochettino is – creditably – trying to integrate into the big wide world. And N17 is after all the spiritual home of the pretty passer with lovely technique. However, the relief at seeing Dembele’s name back in the starting line-up was justified by his general air of belligerence throughout. Between him and Alli that notoriously soft and squishy Spurs underbelly is being given a few layers of reinforcement.
As the first half wore on, and Sunderland’s dogged 10-0-Defoe formation proved quite the immovable object, the AANP cogs started to whir out a point about Eriksen’s effectiveness – or lack thereof. Then he went and scored, and scored again, which rather showed me, but I will conveniently ignore the small matter of those two fairly critical goals, and hammer home the point anyway. The chap seems to have lost that alchemist’s touch in recent weeks, what? In games like this particularly, and in the opening exchanges vs Leicester (Cup) last week, when a sprinkle of subtlety was needed about the place as a matter of urgency, to thread a pass through the eye of a needle or some such jiggery-pokery, the chap’s creative juices seemed to run a little dry. In fact, he went down a notch further in the first half hour today, and started misplacing straightforward six-yard passes.
The goals, naturally were welcomed, and it would probably be the decent thing of me to let bygones be bygones and simply slap the chap’s back and ask about the health of his family, but where’s the fun in that? He does seem to have gone off the boil a tad in recent weeks. I don’t mind lobbing into the air the theory that this might be at least partially due to being nudged out of his spiritual home, slap bang in the centre. Dele Alli appears to have dibs on the Number 10 role, while Dembele, as mentioned, does a fine job prowling up and down either side of the centre circle. All of which seems to leave Eriksen forced to set up camp in an inside right or left position. It ought not to make a difference to the price of eggs for a player with his natural ability, but somehow things just aren’t quite right with his size nines. None of which would be too concerning, but there appears to be a sort of pattern to things at the moment, whereby we start a game like a team of wild horses unleashed, fail to get an early goal against a massed rank of defenders, and gradually allow the opposition more and more oxygen, damn their eyes. Someone somewhere needs to find a way to unlock a packed defence, lickety-split.
It would appear that the Brains Trust have not tired of their Christmas toy, a shiny new full-back mix-and-match kit. An interesting one this, as quite a few debates have been thrashed out amongst my chums this season weighing up the relative merits and concerns around our various right- and left-backs. It is not entirely clear to me whether Pochettino is selecting them on a suitability basis – horses-for-courses, if you will – or simply deciding that one-game-on, one-game-off is the decorous manner in which such things should be done, but either way the four in question are being kept on their toes. And then elbowed back to the bench.
So was Walker’s omission today his purgatory for the sins of just about every game in which he has ever played, when he has had that brain fade and gifted an opportunity to an opponent? Is Rose seen as the better option against weaker opposition because of his willingness to hare forward? But isn’t Davies just about doing exactly that anyway? Does it count for anything that young Trippier looks ever so slightly like a young, squashed up Wayne Rooney? Whatever the deep-lying narrative, all four of them seem to be pretty happy to have been given licence to slap the words “Gung-Ho” on their family crest and go flying up the flanks to provide 90 minutes of width to proceedings. Frankly it is dashed difficult to call a winner on either flank at the moment, and maybe that’s exactly the point. As sub-plots go, it is perhaps not quite on a par with Karl looking to avenge the death of his brother in Nakatomi Plaza, but nevertheless a useful conundrum has been added to the lilywhite mix.
Not wanting to sound like a broken record, but at some point before man colonises Mars will we need to rotate some of these chaps? Vertonghen, Alderweireld in particular (apparently the only game he’s missed all season was Arsenal in the Capital One Cup, which feels I’m pretty sure was played in black and white, it was so long ago), Dier and Kane seem to be reeled out come hell or high water.
There are no doubt associated risks with rotating, not least the likely drop in quality that they entail, what with every point being so vital. It is a truth fairly universally acknowledged that we simply do not have an adequate substitute for Kane; and the fleeting glimpses of Wimmer have not exactly screamed that he is such a watertight deputy for Alderweireld or Vertonghen that the casual viewer would fail to notice the difference. Moreover, the eagle-eyed will have spotted that there is only one of him, so half of the centre-back combo will always be required (in common with the club management, I am assuming that Fazio is absolutely the last option conceivable).
Dier, one would have thought, could be allowed an afternoon off at some point with Bentaleb wrapped up on the bench each week, but this does not seem to be the way that Pochettino butters his bread. I would guess that one of the centre-backs plus Dier will start again against Leicester in midweek, which is all well and good, but we still have half a season to play, and sooner or later these chaps’ limbs are going to start dropping off.
There is, I suppose, a counter-argument that these chaps ought to be perfectly capable of playing twice a week. It is, after all, what a Champions League season would require. I nevertheless would like to see the aforementioned quartet occasionally yanked out of the spotlight every now and then, because if a tendon snaps or some similar fate befalls then we won’t look half as clever. And even if all tendons maintain fine working order, mistakes will presumably creep in (Alderweireld, for example, looked a little more fallible than usual last week in the Cup against Leicester, and while Kane has been blessed with a natural expression of exhaustion, his recent performances have not been quite polished).
In closing however, and dealing again with the present moment, it was another good day at the office. The response to defeat last week and to falling behind today was as positive as we could have hoped. 4-1 was a fair reflection of the way the cutlery was laid out, and the goal difference continues to prompt rubbed eyes and double-takes from seasoned Lane-goers across the land. The Top Four remains realistic
6 months ago
Everton 1-1 Spurs: 5 Lilywhite Observations
1. Casting A Dubious Eye Over Tom Carroll
Carroll does have a dreamy touch, and if Premiership football were all about popping four-yard passes sideways, and backwards, and actually dispensing with boots and ball and just drawing pretty pictures of trees, then one suspects he would be revered far and wide as some sort of deity. But occasionally, the central midfield waltz seems to require hefty dollops of blood and thunder. Not to mention winning tackles, effecting clearances, tracking opponents and other fittings of similar ilk. And in these respects it seemed from my distant perch that Carroll was wafting his bat but missing the ball by a good foot or two, if you get my drift.
Now it may be that I have pre-judged the chap. You know how it is, you mark a blighter down as ‘nay’ rather than ‘yay’, and thereafter, even if he covers every blade of grass, and rescues a yelping maiden from a burning cottage for good measure, you still dock him points for messy handwriting. So maybe having knocked Carroll as a lightweight, waif-like, toothless, shadow of a lad by about the halfway stage, I may have been far too blinkered in my judgements thereafter. The TV folk certainly sung his praises, which rather goes to show.
But the moments that struck me were when he let Barkley wander past him and then wrapped his arms around him to give him a hug - rather than tackling him - to earn a booking; and when we broke on the left, he received the ball twenty yards from goal and produced from nowhere his best Jermaine Jenas impression by swivelling towards his own net and knocking it backwards fifteen yards to groans from across North London; and the astonishingly inept attempt at a clearing header late on, which bounced off the top of his head in a manner completely bereft of any control, to an Everton chappie who lashed a volley goalwards to draw an outstanding palm from Lloris. Rather a mouthful, but gist of the thing is that Carroll gives the impression of a boy who is only loitering there because his parents have forgotten to collect him.
A big day this, for those charged with keeping things under lock and key. Belgium are apparently the best national team in the world at the moment, which ought to have made today’s game about the standard of a World Cup final if you think about it, but irrespective of that curiosity Messrs Vertonghen and Alderweireld had a challenge and a half in front of them, in the shape of the considerable frame of Lukaku. Being the sort of chap who always struck me as likely to be completely at home diving head-first through a brick wall, our two centre-backs needed to be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed – and by and large they made a solid fist of things. Not all their own way, and the nerves rather frayed a bit towards the end when everything stretched and the pressure ratcheted up several notches, but he was shackled as well as such behemoths can be.
However, if there were one moment that had me uttering a few choice curses it was the goal we conceded. Well, naturally enough I suppose, but particularly Vertonghen’s role in it. I’m not sure he can be faulted for losing the initial header to Lukaku – let us not forget the capacity to headbutt brick walls and suchlike – but why the dickens did Vertonghen turn his back on Lennon as the latter took his shot? This man’s very bread and butter lies in the act of preventing exactly that by any legal means necessary, and he gets paid sackloads for the privilege. Fling every limb at him, dash it. Take one full in the face if you have to.
(While on the topic, it also struck me as a bit odd that Lloris grasped at the thing with his wrong hand (his left), but it seemed a fairly futile cause by that point in any case.)
3. Rip-Snorting First Half
Truth be told, these are relatively minor gripes, and ought not to form chorus and the first couple of verses when the whole thing is eventually committed to song. Our first half was akin to one of those runaway trains that one sees in action films of a certain era, but which never actually happen in real life. Hurtling along at a rate of knots, sparks flying and all sorts. That poor old Kane and Davies failed to strike oil with their respective long-range efforts is to be solemnly lamented, as Kane’s could not have been closer and Davies’ almost ripped the net from its frame. (Although as my old man, AANP Senior is never slow to point out, they only deserve credit if they were aiming for the woodwork.)
Even aside from the close shaves however, our heroes looked at the peak of their powers in the first half. It was as well as they had played all season. The goal conceded was a rotten injustice, but such is life I suppose, and to their credit they kept beavering away until the break. When they play thusly one really does think that they are capable of staying in the Top Four.
4. The Ongoing Ode to Dembele
Not to harp on again about the personnel who were picked in central midfield, but in a quiet moment tonight, as we swirl away our Sunday night bourbons and reflect on life, I suspect many a Spurs fan will wistfully think of what might have been had Dembele been growling around in the centre. Barkley had his moments, and the substitute they brought on had a bit of bite to him, but Dembele when in the mood can snaffle up such opponents like a bulldog chewing at a sausage roll. As the game wore on and Everton exerted more pressure, the heart yearned for yet another Belgian to enter the fray and start barging folk around.
5. Weary Limbs
Pochettino is evidently a man who knows his apples from his oranges, so I would not dare presume the right to criticise - but if I were to be so impertinent I would respectfully clear the throat in the direction of a little squad rotation. Preferably the sort that does not involve young Master Carroll. Our heroes looked a little jaded as events progressed and Act Three hurtled towards its denouement, and Everton almost profited. Something similar occurred a couple of weeks ago at Newcastle, when again the players looked bang out of gas. The brow furrow, what?
Chadli and Son were dutifully thrown on, but might a fresh pair of legs be in order in the engine room? Amidst the evening gloom one could pick out the frame of Bentaleb on the bench, and there might be worse ideas than introducing him for the closing stages, to ensure that angry flecks of spittle continue to fly until the end. Moreover, Harry Kane will sooner or later splutter to a halt and require roadside assistance, although one suspects that the Brains Trust are fully aware of the need to scratch this particular itch.
A closing sentiment? Wonderful, wonderful goal from Dele Alli – the pass, particularly the control, and the very smart execution. Ten festive points is a strong haul. Bonne année
7 months ago
I know no one ever comments on here but just wanted to let you know, North, I read these very often so definitelyy keep posting!
6 months ago
Good to hear people still reading it. Cheers!
7 months ago
Spurs 3-0 Norwich: Three Lilywhite Observations
Naturally enough much is made of young Master Kane, but on this particular corner of the interweb we tend not to focus so much on the chap’s bread-and-butter of thrashing the little thing into the net and jogging off to general acclaim. His link-up play, his strength, his work-rate – all pored over at various times within the dank four walls of AANP Towers, but his goalscoring I tend to take for granted.
It’s a wrong that ought to be righted, and yesterday’s second goal seems as good a prompt as anyway. When Dele Alli rolled him the ball there was a definite whiff in the air of something promising, but nobody in their right mind would suggest that chance of any description had been slapped on a plate and slid his way. There was plenty of work to be done, and plenty of opportunity for things to go awry.
All credit to the chap then, for plucking from thin air half a yard of space, by virtue of a little shift in balance and some nifty feet, and before either Norwich defender or goalkeeper had set themselves he had lashed the thing inside the post. Mighty impressive, in various respects. Hardly goal of the season, but a cracking self-made effort, which practically screamed “I’m a striker in form and feeling pretty perky about life, what? ”
2. Set-Piece Routines
Our much-loved lilywhites are famed for many things, virtually bursting at the seams with tradition and all stuff of traditional ilk, but in one aspect we have been fairly painfully and conspicuously negligent over the years. I speak of the fad for set-piece delivery, and more specifically, for goals gotten by virtue of set-piece wizardry that is plucked straight from the training ground and imitated, just about verbatim, in the stadium itself during show-time. In years of watching our lot the only time I can remember this whole concept bearing any fruit was the Anderton-Sheringham two-step of a couple of decades back.
Well you can consider the 2015/16 vintage to be negligent no longer, for the Set-Piece Routine is emerging as a most pleasing additional shoulder-cannon in the armoury. Admittedly there was no such goal scored yesterday (I’m not sure that purists would consider a penalty to be a bona fide member of the set-piece club), but we came within about nostril hair’s breadth of one in the first half. And the eye-catching thing was that it was straight from the conveyor belt. Definitely a song-and-dance that I had clocked before. You probably know the one yourself by now – Eriksen whips in a corner with an extra dollop of venom, and one of Dier or Alderweireld gets the bit between their teeth and positively roars their way towards the front post to biff one from forehead towards netting before the opposition know what has hit them.
It seems to have brought about a good half-dozen freebie goals already this season, on top of which there have been a number of incidents such as that which occurred fairly early in proceedings yesterday, whereby the Eriksen-Alderweireld combo is rattled off but concludes only with a save of the smartest order from the opposition ‘keeper.
A moot point on all this, is how the devil we get away with it on a weekly basis. Every team in the Premiership seems to cart around at least a dozen supporting staff, and the TV coverage alone appears to record just about every conceivable statistic and angle, from the direction in which the striker parts his hair to the number of times the reserve full-back surreptitiously picks his nose while on the bench. It is beyond me therefore as to how on earth no opponent to date has either spotted or come up with a reasonable counter-measure to our devastatingly effective yet fairly straightforward corner routine. Not that I’m complaining mind, but it seems an odd one.
Our heroes did a commendable job yesterday of first weathering an early jab or two from Norwich, and then turning the screw with two goals before half-time. The visitors could hardly be said to have run riot in the opening exchanges, but they certainly did wave their arms around and cause a spot of unrest, and concession of the opening goal would have complicated matters. Credit then to our lot for keeping the sheets clean in the first place, and thereafter not throwing away the lead, as has happened before.
Nevertheless, the curmudgeonly old crank in me still baulked a little at the sight of the fancy flicks and tricks being wheeled out when the beast still had more than a breath of life in it. Two-nil is not really the time at which to be slipping on a posh frock and playing for the cameras. Lamela’s latest rabona was actually excusable, as it made sense for a heavily left-footed type to twist himself accordingly, but the general gist of the thing was to party like it was 1999 and as if we were 5-0 up and cantering. I would much rather they collectively put their heads down and focused upon strangling the life out of things, dash it, by going four or five ahead, before breaking open the party bags.
But maybe that’s just me.
The usual suspects each earned their weekly honourable mention – young Alli once again linked the middle end to the front end with cunning and energy, and his natty combos with Kane seem to improve by the week (although one of these days he will get himself sent off for picking a pointless fight); and Lloris made a couple more blink-and-miss reaction stops. All told, it was a mighty satisfactory bottle of eggs. The pessimist within still mumbles about squad rotation and wonders if Eriksen could turn things up just a smidgeon, but these are worries for another day. A fine piece of work, and the Top Four remains eminently doable
7 months ago
Spurs 1-2 Newcastle: 3 Lilywhite Observations
1. The Dembele-Shaped Hole
Carroll flitted around the periphery of things looking like a schoolboy, or a ballerina, or a schoolboy ballerina – and with about as much impact as any of the above. Where Dembele (the new improved version) would stick out his chest, grab the game by the scruff of the neck and power from deep straight through the centre of the thing, bludgeoning past all in his way be they friend or foe, Carroll, bless him, hopped and skipped and poked in an occasional dainty foot.
I probably ought to lob up a disclaimer at this juncture, for this is not meant to be a character assassination of the more general sort. I actually have a soft spot for the young pimple, in a Glenn Hoddle sort of way, as he has lovely feet and picks the occasional fruity pass. Something of the Huddlestone about him. (And that goal on Thursday was impudent and delightful in equal measure)
Bother and grumble however, today he started fairly ineffectually and his contribution diminished thereafter, to the point at which in the second half the only sightings of his waif-like figure seemed to be a yard behind the closest Newcastle player. It felt like playing with ten men, with a hole slap-bang in the middle of the engine, which is a cause for concern because there will presumably be more days when Dembele is laid low between now and May. Young Carroll, I would venture, has slipped beyond Bentaleb and Mason in that particular rank of cabs.
2. Europa Fatigue?
Call me suspicious, but did anybody else notice a distinct air of energy levels sinking to ground level, and not stopping there but burrowing deep within the turf, in that second half? It may have been mental fatigue, it dashed well looked like they were physically spent, but for whatever reason the performance fizzled out entirely.
Neither midfield nor attack seemed capable of holding onto the thing in that second half, and Newcastle snapped up every loose ball going ahead of the nearest shell of a lilywhite. Bless their cotton socks, the poor lambs could barely stick one limb in front of the other by the conclusion, with a couple having to be scraped from the ground at the final whistle by those chaps who wander around afterwards poking the turf with their pitchforks.
Matters this season have revolved rather crucially around the screen in front of the back four. Alas, young Master Dier, the sort of young buck who at the best of times looks like he would rather like to pause events and take a few swigs of O2 to keep things ticking over, waddled around like a car stuck in mud today, second to too many loose balls, and misplacing passes as if in a competition to rack up as many as possible. This unfortunately set the tone for things around him, as nary an attempted through-ball from any one of our fabled attackers did the intended job of slicing up Newcastle like a knife through butter. In fact, more often than not, misplaced ten-yarders outside the Newcastle D tended to be the starting point of one of their counter-attacks.
Europa fatigue? C’est possible. Whatever the cause, our glorious leader needs to don his thinking cap and solve it, because this lot cannot sustain the all-singing, all-dancing, high-octane, full-throttle approach for 90 minutes twice a week until the end of the season.
3. Time for Fresh Legs?
The team has pretty much picked itself all season, barring a Davies here and a Son there, but whichever one of numerous staff in the dugout is responsible for ringing the bell that summons fresh pairs of legs ought to dust off his best suit, because his services are required pronto.
Bentaleb might have been shoved into the thick of things at some point today, to stick out an elbow, shout a rude word or two and generally ignite the thing like the cantankerous young pup he is. Given that he is now presumably fit enough, it might be peeling off the protective layers and playing him from the off in the coming weeks, if only in the interests of saving Dier from collapsing to his knees like the sorry chap in Platoon.
Kane too might be a candidate for an afternoon with his feet up and a good book, as his run of having played a competitive game every day since he was 4 years old stretches on. His spirit is certainly still willing enough, but today he was not quite the exemplar of hold-up play. Although I am not particularly convinced that any of Chadli, Lamela, Son or the boy Clinton are exactly the sort of centre-forward one would expect to roll off the conveyor belts at the factories that churn out these things, the festive fixture list will presumably see one of them don the cape and deputise for a game or two.
No need to don sackcloth and ashes just yet, but a few too many draws and now an awfully flat defeat have temporarily burst the bubble that was floating around the place. Such is life, but the first half was fairly sunny and spiky, and a return to such ways next weekend would cheer the soul no end
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