Well if we continue to display that peculiar trend for producing performances directly correlating to the qualitiy of the opposition, we’ll have a ruddy good chance. Draws against Chelski, l’Arse twice, Liverpool and Man Utd themselves suggest that we’ve got it in us, somewhere.On paper, by the form-book and according to the general laws of physics that keep life ticking over across the planet, we really ought to get thrashed on Sunday. European (and, for what it’s worth, World) champions, and runaway league leaders; against our lot, who apparently only had two points when ‘Arry took over. And that’s as much negativity as you’ll prise out of me this time. The spirit of blithe optimism which has been at me like a fever all week is set to last until about 2.59 on Sunday, at which point, as is customary, frantic agitation shall make itself at home within my skinny frame.
On the team news front, we’re without Cudicini, Chimbonda, Palacios, Keane and Campbell (ineligible). Ledley, as ever, is being pieced together with blu-tac and sticky tape, Woody’s got stitches but that won’t stop him, and Pav has a groin strain, which might stop him, as he’s got a lot of fairy in him.
All of which is likely to leave us with Gomes; Corluka, Ledley, Woody, BAE; Lennon, Jenas, Zokora, Modric (or maybe a reshuffle with Bentley instead of do-do-do Didier?); Bent and Pav. With Dawson, Hudd, Gunter, Bale, Three-Touch, Bentley/Zokora, Giovanni and Obika amongst the subs.
Brazil 1970 it might not be, but as mentioned, nothing brings out the best in us like a game against one of the better teams around. A seeming lack of motivation to complement the obvious talent has irked me on and off all season, but it won’t be problem in a Wembley cup final. It’s been a slightly tortuous seven months of blind allegiance so far this season, but frankly that would make victory on Sunday that much sweeter.
Some Thoughts on Our Opponents
Man Utd are quite possibly going to field an understrengthed team. That doesn’t fool me. While it would be nice to imagine that they’ll be trotting out a team of Fraizer Campbells, I don’t doubt that they’ll still be pretty darned strong. Tevez, Scholes, Nani, O’ Shea – that sort of “understrengthed”. And they will also have the world’s most expensive and talented substitutes’ bench as a safety net, so few favours will be forthcoming. It matters not. We’ll match them, and better them.
I have to admit I enjoy watching Man Utd. Don’t like them as a team, find their arrogance face-slappingly obnoxious, can barely restrain the urge to kick the telly whenever their boss appears, and would happily lock that publicity-addict Bobby Charlton in a retirement home with no windows – but I enjoy watching them. You see, they play the Tottenham way.
I’ll just pause a moment to let the laughter subside.
It’s that one touch, defence-into-attack style. It first caught my eye in ’99, when the Beckham-Keane-Scholes-Giggs midfield supported the telepathically-linked Cole and Yorke upfront (with Solsjkaer and Teddy on the bench). Some team. The only other side to win a trophy that season was Tottenham. The key seems to be more off-the-ball movement than you can shake a stick at. When they attack at pace it’s all so fluid that commentators have given up trying to pin a label upon the formation. It’s no longer 4-4-2 or 4-3-3. Ronaldo pops up in the centre, and Berba drops deep, and Rooney goes wide left, and Giggs drifts into the middle, and they bring on Tevez wide right; then five minutes later they all swap anyway and it’s just football in liquid form.
It’s football the way it’s meant to be played – the Tottenham way – and it tends to contain an end-product, unlike that other lot, up the road.
A couple of years ago, the halcyon days of Martin Jol (blessed be his name) only Spurs compared to Man Utd for entertainment and flair. The pace and movement of Lennon, Steed, Berba and Keane had everyone drooling. Our problem was generally defence, or perhaps protecting the defence. Hence, we’d ship in almost as many as we conceded, and 4-4 draws ceased to be anomalous. It was all action, no plot.
Man Utd, irritatingly, seem to have married the Tottenham way of attacking with an impressively solid defence. That would probably explain the slight but crucial disparity in league positioning and European pedigree. All action, but they stick to the plot too. Still, the speed of Lennon, and touch and vision of Modric keeps us in touch with our tradition of champagne football, and fingers are crossed all over the better half of North London that the signing of Palacios will give us the backbone to complement the fancy frills further forward.
I won’t notice at the time, I’ll be a bundle of nerves, but given the playing styles of both teams it could be one of the better Cup Finals of recent years. That said, I’ll most happily abandon the glory football ethos and settle for a long-ball, any-which-way war of attrition if it ends with Ledley lifting the trophy once again. Deep breath, calm the nerves – here’s hoping for a long night of celebrations and the world’s happiest hangover on Monday…