With a game very far away on Thursday to worry about, I wonder if we might start to get trickles of news about the squad heading out to Baku to play Qarabag on Thursday, from today?
It’s a fair old schlep to play football and because of that everything probably has to be done earlier than normal so it wouldn’t surprise me to hear that Unai has given a team update today. Unless he’s going to deliver his news in Azerbaijan.
One player who supposedly won’t be there is Henrikh Mkhitaryan and I’m sure you all saw the noises from social media yesterday about why he won’t travel, so I’ll steer clear of that particular political hot potato, I think. But what it does do is bring in to focus just who might travel and that’s why this naming of the squad is probably more interesting than others.
In hindsight it’s fair to say the balance of bringing in more first teamers at home for Vorskla when we were facing another home game the following weekend made sense. Players don’t have to travel, there were some sensible substitutions like Auba coming off after about 60 minutes, plus Emery could leave out one or two of the first teamers with the knowledge that they wouldn’t be too affected by the Sunday game.
This Thursday’s game is totally different because it requires quite a lot of travel (it’s a five and a half hour flight plus a time zone change or two), a fair bit of a palaver getting to the ground, plus it’s going to be 25 degrees by the time the players kick off. It means that the physical elements of the game are different to our home encounter against the Ukrainians and as a result I have everything crossed that it is a team missing quite a few who will play on Sunday against Fulham.
The absence of Cech, for example, should mean Leno is nowhere near the plane. The same should be said for Nacho now that Kolasinac is back fit. The importance of both fullbacks and the space they must cover in Emery’s team is crucial to the way we play at the moment so I’m just hoping that both Nacho and Hector are watching on TV at home when the kick off happens on Thursday 6pm UK time. We have Lichtsteiner and Kolasinac and that should be enough.
The big challenge will be what Unai does in defence. Is he going to send all of his fit centre halves out their? What other option does he have?
That worries me. We already have a wobbly back line but to be forced to send them out and ask them to get back to the UK and play about 60 hours later is a tall ask.
Further up the field there are probably more choices for Emery and whoever plays might give an indication on what the team looks like on Sunday. No Auba, Laca, Iwobi, Mkhitaryan, for example, and it’ll be Welbeck, Ramsey, Nketiah in a forward three with perhaps even Smith-Rowe getting a go.
I’d have no problem with that. We have a good enough team to win our home matches and perhaps pick a point up away to Vorskla and something against Sporting Lisbon, so the risk of losing this game isn’t as big as it could be. If you apply the same logic as the Champions League then you’d have to say ten points is probably enough to get out of the group. That’s three wins at home and one draw away. We’re good for that I’d say and I hope that’s where Emery’s head is at when deciding who travels with him tomorrow.
One thing Emery could do – but I don’t think he will – is use games like this to test formations. I’ve been bleating on about three at the back with wing backs and two up top. Whilst I wouldn’t want to see the first team out on Thursday doing this, at least we could get a look at what a change in formation looks like. The team feels like it is more geared up to that kind of formation given the personnel we have in the squad, so at least by giving it a go Emery can see if the players click with it, before then introducing on a more regular basis if it does look like it works.
I doubt he will though. He seems intent on this particular style of play and I don’t believe he’s ever adopted a three at the back in his managerial career, so I don’t see him starting now, despite how much I would like to see it. Of course I could be wrong because I’ve hardly followed his career closely, but it feels to me like it’s a non-starter, which is a shame.
We shall have to wait and see who the squad are and how they play over the next 48 hours I suppose.
That’s it from me today. Not a lot else going on at the moment so I thought I’d keep this as a brief one today.