No doubt there abound all manner of permutations depending on the various scorelines tonight, but there is a pleasing simplicity about the fact that victory tonight will guarantee us top-spot in the group. This would be a handy time to do away with the latest statistical quirk being waved in our direction by that dastardly band of would-be detractors: apparently our heroes are yet to win outside Londinium this season. Last time I checked the Netherlands was located outside the M25, so victory here would be welcome.Team News: Changes Afoot
Whispers in one corner of the interweb have it that Michael Dawson may be shunted back into action this evening, which would probably leave Sebastian Bassong a trifle miffed, but would otherwise be greeted with fairly universal thigh-slapping. Robbie Keane is also in the squad, while Jermaine Jenas is fit again, and not a moment too soon.
‘Arry has suggested that he might make a couple of changes in this one, in the interests of protecting the little lambs ahead of the festive schedule, on which note my thoughts turn to the boy Bale. Might this be the time to let him catch his breath? Aside from the Carling Cup shocker against l’Arse I am not too sure he has missed a single game yet, and with qualification in the bag – not to mention Niko Kranjcar grumpily twiddling his thumbs on the sidelines – this might be the night to truss him up in cotton wool and keep him out of harm’s way.
The absence of Bale would obviously detract from our attacking potency somewhat, but in terms of our shape and ability to dominate proceedings I am more concerned by the news that Modders has a bout of man-flu. Bale is an undoubted match-winner par excellence, but out on the left he injects the occasional uncontrollable, game-changing burst, rather than pulling the strings from first minute to last. The job of keeping operations ticking over is assigned to Modders, and his importance has been heightened by the absences of Hudd and VDV. A Modric-less midfield would probably comprise Jenas and Sergeant Wilson, and although these two could probably carry out the basics for 90 minutes, one suspects that their combined offering would not be drenched in the obscenely high levels of technical mastery to which we have become accustomed in central midfield this season.
It is a little difficult to know how to approach tonight’s festivities. Victory would mean we neatly sidestep Real, Barca, Bayern et al for one further round at least, so there is some incentive; and it seems fairly safe to assume that, as ever, our heroes will set out in their usual naïve, gung-ho fashion, for it is fairly universally acknowledged they would not know how to play a restrained, slow-tempo containing game if it smacked them in the face with a wet fish.
Nevertheless, Chelski come traipsing up the High Road this weekend, a match in which victory really is vital – so should our heroes end up ambling around tonight with all the apathy of an Australian seam bowler being relentlessly pummelled into the ground, hour after soul-destroying hour, one would appreciate why. It would not be an approach with which I concur, but the rationale would be understandable. Wholesale changes are unlikely – primarily because we barely have the personnel even to fill the substitutes’ bench – but should both Bale and Modders be omitted we will know where our glorious leader’s priorities lie. I suppose a best-case scenario would see these two omitted and the eleven selected still delivering victory, but, alas, one way or t’other I can see us surrendering top-spot in the course of the evening.