A win against a top-four team; a win away in a potential banana-skin of a game against relegation fodder; now a London derby – one way or another we are certainly having our credentials rigorously tested in these early days.I desperately hope we win tomorrow. This has nothing to do with the whole issue of enmity with West Ham – as I have previously confessed, I am neither here nor there on that issue. Rather, it’s the notion of what sort of standard we are setting ourselves for this campaign. The first week of the season is no time to make any prediction, and six or seven points from a possible nine would still represent a decent start – but a win, a third consecutive win, would again hint that we are pushing on, looking to establish ourselves firmly as part of the chasing pack of teams snapping at the top four, rather than a slightly faceless mid-table outfit. West Ham away is a tricky one, but not impossible – and I would give one of my less essential limbs to see us consistently win these tricky-but-not-impossible matches. It would represent progress, and raise the bar slightly.
Some changes seem pretty straightforward – Cudicini in goal, Ledley slotting effortlessly back into defence. I was particularly impressed by West Ham’s Carlton Cole in the England friendly v Holland a couple of weeks back. Not someone to whom I had paid much attention previously, he showed good strength and some nifty footwork that night. He ought to keep Ledley and Bassong on their toes.
Ledley’s return is beyond debate, but raises the question of who will be right-back. Hutton made a decent fist of it against Hull, showing good pace and attacking intent, as well as that will to win that borders on the psychotic. However, we have all witnessed the telepathic understanding between Lennon and Corluka down the right, and the big Croat seems to be ‘Arry’s preferred choice.
The Hudd will presumably retain the central midfield spot, having generally impressed so far this season. An all-action midfield dynamo he is not, and never will be, but I think most fans are accepting of this and happy enough to see him play to the strengths he does possess. On which note – he has shown impressive judgement when opting between long and short balls, and has got stuck in as the situation has demanded. Another opportunity to cement his place in the starting line-up beckons.
Wednesday’s goal-fest is as close as Keane and Defoe will ever come to combining well together. Defoe certainly benefited from the work-rate and intelligent use of the ball shown by Keane (as well as the general string-pulling of Modric and Hudd). We may not have had a big man to hold onto possession up-top against Hull, but we did not particularly need one.
It could be a different kettle of fish tomorrow however, if our glorious leader decides that we require a physical presence in attack, rather than a link-up man sashaying between midfield and attack. ‘Arry is yet to drop Keane, and appears at times to be holding out until the end of time itself before he does so. After two decent performances the odds are that Keane will retain his place, but it is no certainty. Either way, I hope that Pav gets more than a five-minute cameo, having displayed sharpness and a generally laudable attitude in pre-season.