When I unlocked my phone yesterday on the tube home, I hoped to read stories on the official site about “the strength of the squad” or how one or two players “have been unlucky not to play more football” so far this season. I didn’t expect to read about how the squad travelling to Switzerland to play in the effective dead rubber tonight would be the same as the weekend.
Quite why we’re doing that is anyone’s guess. PSG are not dropping points against Ludogorets. Not no way, not no how, because even we managed to give them a two-goal lead and still claw a victory from under their noses when we played them. So why are we taking players like Alexis and Özil? Or Koscielny for that matter. Why not give an opportunity to other players who haven’t played?
Personally, I’d love to see a first XI of Ospina, Jenkinson, Gabriel, Holding, Gibbs, Xhaka, Ramsey, Iwobi, Jeff, Giroud and perhaps Perez. It would mean we’re giving plenty of rest to players for the visit of a physical Stoke team at the weekend. Even by taking Alexis and Özil, they’re still travelling, which plays its part on the inevitable fatigue of the body. I appreciate that they’ll no doubt have comfy ‘lie-flat’ beds on the way there and back, but nothing substitutes your own actual bed, does it?
But let’s try to get in to the boss’ mind though. Perhaps he will rotate some of the players, but not all, after the Southampton game last week. Perhaps he’ll give a chance to a few like Holding, Perez, Gibbs and Giroud, but keep the rest of the side in fact to retain a bit of continuity? I guess I can understand that. Breeding the winning mentality n’all. It’s just…well…we all know what normally happens when first teamers end up playing in games that they needn’t; we end up with injuries on our hands.
Also, perhaps he will keep Özil and Alexis on the bench, whilst listening out for noises as to how the PSG game is getting on. If we get a sniff that they’re not winning against the Bulgarian champions, then perhaps there’s a case for a second half appearance of our Chilean and our German. I kind of get that. But I just hope they don’t start. I don’t want any excuses for sluggishness against Mark Hughes’ team.
I just have a feeling that Arsène goes all in tonight though. I just think he’ll not rotate and play his best team, or perhaps even with Alexis on the left and Giroud through the middle. I hope he doesn’t, but I just have this nagging feeling, you know?
As for our opponents, they’ll be bang up for the win to try to show their home crowd a good time and perhaps they’ll also be looking to get in to the Europa League with the Tiny Totts. I’m not sure though because I really couldn’t care less on that competition, let alone the next phase of entry criteria. I’m more concerned with which one from Real Madrid, Barcelona or Bayern, that we’ll end up facing in the next round of the Champions League. I wonder if their fans are as bored as ours with the draw against us when it comes up. Probably not; if you know your team is stronger, then you’re quite happy to get a team you have a psychological advantage over.
How will Basel play tonight? Probably by trying to expose our makeshift right hand side, but rather than focus on what they need to do to win the match, we need to look at what will give us the win. Quite simply it will be our own mentality. We’ve seen this script play out a few times over the years. I remember watching one of the worst 0-0 draws of all time at Highbury against Ajax when we were already through. Or there was a couple of Olympiacos matches away from home which meant nothing and the outcome of those matches was that the home side won and our away fans could just enjoy foreign soil without any stresses for a change.
That’s what I’m expecting tonight. I think that whilst no side sets out to lose, our team this evening knowing they have the buffer of this game not meaning anything, whilst Basel will have the carrot of a big scalp, delighting the home fans and also the Europa League, so I think this points towards a victory on their point.
I don’t want that, I’ll be watching and hoping for a win, but it won’t be one in which I think I’ll lose too much sleep over.
What I will be doing though, is looking to get tickets to Preston North End, away in the FA Cup. I went to Lancaster University, which is the next town north of Preston, so I fancy a trip with The Management up there at the beginning of January to see the old haunts. It’s better than another game against Hull, that’s for sure!
Righto, that’s me for the day, so I’ll catch you tomorrow with the most over-enthusiastic of post-match reviews. Not.