Preview: Norwich v Tottenham

Is Dele Alli the greatest Englishman of all time? Can Tottenham do something weird like win the Premier League? How can Norwich beat them? Was Teddy Sheringham a shit? Can we bring back the baggy shorts of the 1990s? Why aren't there more posh footballers? Dan Brigham asks Spurs fan and sportswriter Dave Tickner

Dan: Hi Dave. Picture the scene. Harry Kane crosses the ball from the right to the edge of the area, where Christian Eriksen cushions a header. It sits up nicely and there, with his back to goal, is Dave Tickner. As the ball drops, and time slows down, what happens next?

Dave: “At last,” I think to myself. “At last that clown Pochettino has seen past his bewildering obsession with young, eager, talented players who are ready to learn and willing to be moulded, to embrace his high-tempo game.” At last he has seen the value of selecting a snarky, cynical, wheezing 34-year-old. This is the moment. This is my moment. Bring the ball under control with one touch, flick it over this poor defender's head the second, volley it in the bottom corner from 20 yards with a third.

The hype machine will go into overdrive. There will be talk of Euro 2016 call-ups. The big Spanish clubs will be interested, of course. I shall be flattered by their interest – who wouldn't? – but I'm happy here. Not that you can ever rule anything out in football. There will be Vines. There will be GIFs. There will be manual retweeting. I will trip over my shoelaces. I will fall over. I am not Dele Alli.

Dan: I tried to replicate it in 5-a-side last week and, like everything else I do in football, I ended up kicking myself really hard in the knee.

What's it like to support a team with the Best Young England Player Ever (with respect to Anthony Gardner) playing for them? And not just a great young player, but a great young player who doesn't appear to be a total John Terry of a wanker?

I mean, if you're 34, you probably missed out on seeing Glenn Hoddle at Spurs, but for the sake of totally overhyping a young English talent, where would you place him among some great Spurs midfielders like Hoddle, Gareth Bale, Paul Gascoigne (Alli was two months old when Gazza scored his dentist-chair goal against Scotland at Euro 96...), Luka Modrić, Ossie Ardiles, Steve Perryman, Danny Blanchflower and other players I've forgotten?

Dave: I wouldn't even back myself to replicate Alli's now trademark wave.

It's absolutely no exaggeration to say that Alli is literally the best footballer and human being of all time. The only thing that can possibly go wrong now is that the goal at Palace has accelerated the British Tabloid Hype Machine to such an extent that the backlash may now have to take place before he fails miserably to single-handedly win Euro 2016 for Queen and country like the despicable traitor he must surely be. Expect the hippy-crack front pages sometime around April, which is also about the time when he will suffer the Dreaded Metatarsal.

Obviously putting too much hype and pressure on a 19-year-old is silly. But, that said, I genuinely think Alli is our best midfielder since Gascoigne. With the possible exception of Øyvind Leonhardsen, obvs. These are big and dangerous words, but he really is fucking ridiculous. 

The best thing about him, and this is some red-hot analysis right here, is that he is actually a midfielder. As in, he does some attacking and some defending and is competent at both these things. Your modern football with its attacking midfielders and defensive midfielders can fuck right off. Claude Makéléleé was a lazy fraud. There's another word for what he was: a defender.

And attacking midfielders are nothing more than strikers who don't score enough goals but are too proud to bother tracking back. Not Alli. He does all the midfielding jobs, like a proper midfielder. And he's got a bit of edge to him without being a John Terry. It's almost got him in bother a couple of times this season, but he seems to stay just about on the right side of the "bit of niggle/daft twattery" line.

In my time supporting Spurs, Gazza and Bale are the only other players to excite like Alli does. David Ginola possibly another, but I always fear that he might be a touch overrated in Spurs fans' memories because all our other players at that time were dreary, shit, or dreary and shit.

Dan: Dreary and shit? Harsh on Justin Edinburgh and Stephen Clemence, there.

So, not only have you got England's Best Young Player but you're also In With A Shout for the title. Wtf has happened there? That's not supposed to happen to Tottenham. You're supposed to be 12 points off the top and fighting a losing battle to finish above Arsenal in 4th. And, if it wasn't for Leicester and their pizza-eating and their happy-chappy manager and their cheeky-racist striker, all the neutrals would probably want Spurs to win it. Can you do that? Can you actually do something mental like win the Premier League? I mean, Spurs are a side who haven't even finished as high as Norwich in the PL era (although you did beat us 5-1 and also knock us out of the FA Cup when we came third in 92-93. That's back when Teddy Sheringham couldn't stop scoring past us, the shit).

Five points off the top. Can you do it?

 

Dave: That 92-93 side, now that was a proper Tottenham side. Sheringham, Nayim, Anderton and Barmby up front, and tits to defending. An early template for the 94-95 'Famous Five' antics under Ossie Ardiles. We literally lost 6-0 at Sheffield United that season. And 5-0 at Leeds, who we then beat 4-0 at home. Jason Cundy played some games, and so did Pat van den Hauwe. Great banter.

But this year, yeah, it's properly fucked up. We're not even going about it in that Spursy kind of way. It's not like we've been somehow accidentally winning a load of games 4-3. Spurs being five points off the top at this point is wrong enough, but Spurs being five points off the top by being the Premier League's best organised and most consistent team is alternative dimension stuff. If Spurs having the best defence in the country isn't a sure sign of the coming apocalypse, then I don't know what is.

Can we win the Premier League? Yes. Yes we can. But we probably won't. And that's okay. A relatively slow start to the season and a few too many draws where, to nitpick for a bit, we sometimes seemed more concerned with extending that long unbeaten run than winning games will probably mean we're always just a step or two behind. And to win the title we'd have to finish above Arsenal, which boffins have proven to be statistically impossible under any circumstances. We couldn't even finish above them when we were seven points clear with one week of the season left ffs.

But our consistency means even fourth place would be a bit of a letdown now. It's funny, when the fixtures were announced I remember thinking that getting Man United away on the opening day was a decent outcome. We'd play them before they'd really got their act together and maybe pinch a result. Instead, they've spent the season systematically further dismantling their act and Old Trafford remains our only empty-handed away trip of the season.

Given that Spurs have built this campaign on a miserly defence and are – never forget this – Spurs, the most likely outcome is surely for the whole thing to now come crashing down around Jan Vertonghen's knee injury. He and Toby Alderweireld (I still look at some of the central defenders at the 'big clubs' and can't for the life of me work out why only us and Southampton seemed to want him in the summer) have been near faultless for months. Now we'll have to see if the Kevin Wimmer way works out.

And having said all that, yesterday’s announcement from Manchester City means the correct (i.e. funniest) outcome this season is now them winning the quadruple.

Dan: Sheringham, Nayim and Barmby scored in that 5-1 win against us. We also lost 7-1 and 4-0 that season, and came third with a minus goal difference, which pretty much categorically proves that football was better back then.

You mention Pep Guardiola there. Man City have a bit of money, don't they? Would you like Spurs to take that route? Do you look forward to the day you're sat in a new, multi-billion-pound stadium sponsored by a generic Asian airline, watching midlfielders and forwards with haircuts who are known by only one name who you bought for £120m? Or is that a horrible, dystopian future and you'd rather the stands still smelled of fags and piss and all those people with money would just leave football alone, thank you very much?

Dave: The way I see it, olden times football was shit and football now is shit (despite the excellent efforts of this season) but in the middle it was great. Purely coincidence that the era where football was great coincides exactly with me being about 9-15 years old. Give or take, football was not shit from roughly Italia 90 to Euro 96.

I've a theory with Spurs that definitely comes under some footballing version of first-world problems. But my theory is that Spurs are the unluckiest club in the country. Because we spent years trying to crack a top four that had huge built-in advantages over us and everyone else by virtue of being, through various amounts of good planning and stupid dumb luck, the biggest four clubs at the precise right time when the money exploded and Champions League qualification became a self-perpetuating cash cow. And then the VERY MOMENT we manage to do it, Manchester City win the lottery and we have to start all over again. Fuck sake.

I cling to the notion that, secretly, all Chelsea and Manchester City fans are dead inside and, deep down, don't truly enjoy their success because it's all not quite cricket. But I'm fooling myself. I don't particularly like the idea of Spurs going down that route, but I do like the idea of all those lovely titles and trophies.

The stadium is a huge thing for us, though. Without wishing to sound like too much of a #NetSpendWanker, we really haven't spent any money in the last few years as we look to finance a new stadium that is, deliciously, ever so slightly bigger than Arsenal's. Marvellous willy-waving effort, that.

It's such an ambitious project to build a brand new stadium on the site of the old one, and it's taken a decade just to get to the starting line really. I'm excited to see the new ground, but the most thrilling thing will definitely be finding out who is going to spend milllions for the naming rights to a place absolutely everyone else will still call White Hart Lane.

Dan: Oh, I'm with you there. 1990-96 will never be bettered, mostly because of the baggy shorts they wore. The size of them! To be fair, football had been going downhill ever since 1904, when the FA started allowing players to wear shorts instead of knickerbockers or trousers, so the fashion for massive shorts in the 90s was a welcome return to knee-covering.

We should, I suppose, really talk about the game. Spurs hammered us on Boxing Day, and may have been the best side we've played this season. So it's just GREAT that you've pointed out that Tottenham have lost only one away game this year, and that was on the opening day of the season.

You mentioned Wimmer will be in for Vertonghen – is that what we should be pinning our hopes on? That Wimmer, who I know absolutely nothing about, is crap, the defence crumbles, Dele Alli spends too much time mopping up problems at the back so doesn't have any time to attack, Hugo Lloris loses his shit and stops being the best keeper in the league and Patrick Bamford sneaks in and starts proving that he's the new Harry Kane and gets us a sneaky 1-0 win?

Or are there other, more likely, areas that are a little bit weak?

Dave: Spurs to the fore again with the return of big shorts, of course. We brought them back in the 1991 FA Cup final, while Stuart Pearce was still running around with his thighs all on show, and three months later the bollock-revealing nonsenses of the 1980s were gone forever. What I'm saying is that the whole of football owes Spurs a thank you. You're welcome.

Where was I? Oh, the match. Yeah. That. Your assessment is correct. For the first time in a long time, we don't quite know what to expect from Spurs here. Wimmer has looked okay in a couple of low-difficulty engagements thus far, but the fact Vertonghen and Alderweireld have played pretty much all the football in all the competitions is telling. Even if Wimmer proves to be fine, he'll clearly be a step down. 

The other option is Eric Dier moving back into the defence, but he's never really convinced there and that only creates more change and uncertainty further forward.

I hope Bamford is a success, after taking precisely one game to find his feet. Firstly, because it would make Alan Pardew look a tit which is always welcome, and secondly because Bamford seems to be quite posh. There should be more quite posh footballers.

Boxing Day was quite probably our best game of the season. It was pretty much the perfect performance from this team. Which in a roundabout way points to your other way of getting at us. If there is a (very slight and very harsh) criticism of Spurs currently, it's that when Plan A isn't working, there isn't much of a Plan B. We've run out of steam and ideas in a few drawn games after starting strongly. West Brom, Everton (twice), Arsenal. The defeats to Newcastle (ffs) and Leicester also fit the profile, with Spurs doing most of the football for 70 minutes and then getting sucker-punched. The wins at Watford and Palace recently are a counterpoint, but those were odd ones. We were an inch away from losing at Watford – who were down to 10, remember – before winning it, and all you need to do to avoid what happened to Palace is not let Dele Alli do a goal-of-the-season contender. Palace had their best spell just after our equaliser and, in truth, before Alli's intervention they were looking the likelier scorers even though we'd utterly controlled the game.

So in summary, Norwich's plan should be: try to exploit any hitherto-unexposed uncertainty in the Spurs defence, while simultaneously frustrating us and – this is important – taking GREAT CARE not to concede any goals (especially early goals or wonder goals). The last two full Norwich games I've watched were against us and Liverpool, so I don't know how practical the last part of that advice is tbf.

Dan: Bamford is quite posh. And chose football over studying at Harvard, so you can imagine John Terry being actively suspicious of him at Chelsea. He looks like he stumbled across from the rugby field into a football game and accidentally found out he's quite good at it, like Prince William revealing a hidden talent as a grime artist. 

I'm banking on Harry Kane continuing his Carrow Road form – which levelled out somewhere between shithouse and horrorshow while on loan here (although he was injured for much of it, to be fair) – and failing to take advantage of Norwich's inevitable hospitality. 

Right, let's end this at the end. What's your score prediction for Tuesday, and how much of a swinging dick is Daniel Levy for not buying a striker in the transfer window to help out Kane? Might've blown your title chances, that. 

Dave: Bamford is definitely not a Proper Football Man, and that's only to be encouraged. 

Kane really is a strange case. As a youngster he was talked of in hushed tones as this miracle goalscorer who was going to be our saviour and then he'd go on loan somewhere and be shit. Last season still doesn't make much sense, but he's a far better player now. Last season was all about that ridiculous run of goals, and now every other part of his game has come on massively. He holds the ball up remarkably well and is cannier with his passing than most realise. He still looks awkward and ungainly a lot of the time, but whether shooting or passing or taking defenders on his feet seem to end up getting it right almost every time. To be honest, I still don't quite understand how it's happening and live in constant fear that it will all end as suddenly as it began.

I'm going for a 3-1 Spurs win but without huge confidence. I think you might let us play and get picked off. I think there will be goals.

Controversially, I'm not too troubled by the lack of a striker. A lot of Spurs fans are comparing this to 2012 when we were also in with a shot at the title, then signed Ryan Nelsen and Louis Saha and fucked everything up. The suggestion again is that not making a decisive move in January shows Levy has failed to learn the lessons of four years ago. The alternative take is that he has learned that signing inadequate players in January can do more harm than good.

Not signing a striker in the summer was an error, but I can understand and accept being unable to correct it in January when value can be hard to find. Any long-term injury for Kane would be terminal to our chances, but that may well be true even if we did sign a replacement. And there are options in the squad. Son Heung-min wouldn't exactly be a traditional line-leading No 9 but has something about him, while Nacer Chadli has the attributes to make a serviceable stop-gap striker. 

It's not ideal, but neither is paying significantly north of £20m for Saido Berahino. I can understand Danny not wanting to blow the cobwebs off the old chequebook.

Dan: Berahino is no Ryan Nelson, that’s for sure. It’s a shame, though, that Kane is going to be piss-knackered by the time the Euros come around. Although, like a puppy Labrador, he won’t realise he’s knackered and start running around and tripping up and headbutting the goal post and forgetting where he is.

If Norwich get a draw out of this game I’ll be very happy. Spurs are the best side I’ve seen this season and I’d actually quite like them to win the league. But, Liverpool aside, we’ve been decent at home against the better sides this season, so I’m going 1-1.

Dave Tickner writes for SportingLife.com and is currently writing a book with Peter Miller about England's unhappy relationship with the Cricket World Cup. You can follow him at @tickerscricket

 

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