The draw for the Fourth Round of the Carabao Cup has paired us with our North London neighbours who are visiting us this weekend. The away tie, to be played in the last week of October, whilst not the kindest, guarantees at least two trips to Wembley this season. And when we go there for the Carabao Cup final, in addition to the FA Cup semi-final and final, that will make five trips to the iconic North-West London venue in one season. OK, so it is a long shot I’ll agree. I wonder what odds the bookies would give for us making the five visits to Wembley in one season? But we have to dream, don’t we?
The 12.30 kick-off is yet another “non-standard” time for a game of football, just as last season when we played Tottenham at 8.00 pm on a Friday night on May 5. We went into that game as vast underdogs. How much would we give for a repeat of the performance and result that we achieved just 141 days ago?
We moved up into 17th place in the table, and just outside the bottom three, when Everton were hammered by Manchester United last week. Tottenham, despite their (typical?) slow start to the season still manage to occupy fifth place, albeit five points adrift of the two Manchester clubs just five games into the season.
Much has been written about their inability to adapt to playing their home games at Wembley, but they have gone some way to rectify this with a convincing win (3-1) against Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League last week, and scraping home 1-0 against Barnsley in the Carabao Cup this week. But in the league their results have been disappointing to say the least, with a home defeat (2-1) to Chelsea, and draws (1-1) with Burnley, and (0-0) v Swansea.
On the other hand, their away form has been excellent and has given them their two wins in the league with victories at Newcastle (2-0) on the opening weekend, and at Everton (3-0). So they come here with a 100% away record which we will be hoping to end. The bookies don’t give us much chance of doing so, and we are quoted at around 5/1 to win the game, with Tottenham around 4/6, and a draw at 3/1. But in the equivalent fixture last May we were even longer odds at 13/2 to win, with the draw at around 4/1, and a Tottenham victory was even shorter than it is this time. I took a punt on us winning the game then, and I’ll be doing the same this time.
The convincing win over Bolton with mostly fringe players was good for confidence, and a third clean sheet in a row. Bolton were poor, but the performances of the players should have given the manager some food for thought when he is selecting the team to face Tottenham. However, despite that I wouldn’t expect to see many changes from the team that played at West Brom last weekend.
Of course, Collins is out and will need to be replaced, but how the manager does this is the £64 million dollar question. Will we revert to a back four of Zabaleta, Fonte, Reid and Cresswell? Or if he wants to continue with three at the back, could Zabaleta be one of the three, or will he want Ogbonna to partner Reid and Fonte? Or might he even be bold and include Rice in his favoured position?
Apparently Obiang has a slight injury and is likely to miss the game, so he will need to replaced too if he doesn’t make it. Perhaps there will be a return for Noble in this position? That would certainly increase the traffic on social media. Or Fernandes even? After his performance in midweek, I also believe that Bilic may want to bring Arnautavic into the starting team to give us much-needed creativity, although many would argue that it is difficult to do this without weakening the team from a defensive viewpoint. Some media outlets suggest that he may come in at the expense of Chicarito, but personally I’d like to see them both in the team. We cannot go into games (even ones against top sides like Tottenham) without the means to create chances and score goals. Somehow the manager has to find a balance between defence and attack but this is what he is paid for. The best teams always defend in numbers without the ball, and attack in numbers when in possession, and we have to find the right personnel and strategy to achieve this.
We will find out the make-up of the team at about 11.30. We will need a performance of high intensity and total commitment to match the result from last May. A draw would be a good result but the optimist in me hopes that we might just sneak the win.