‘Tis held in some quarters that as a whippersnapper the schoolboy ‘Arry would wile away his hours yelping “Wolf!” with tedious regularity, but on Saturday even the cynics amongst us realised that his “bare bones” mantra could be objectively verified. The adage has it that actions speak louder than words, so when young Giovani was shoved out onto the pitch for a few minutes it became evident that ‘Arry spoke sooth, and our lot really were struggling for personnel. (I’m rather a fan of Giovani as it happens, but that particular can of worms sits aside from the point at hand).While Modders, Bale, Parker and Adebayor are firmly ensconced within great big blankets of cotton wool, back at North London HQ – and VDV has been excluded altogether from the personnel list for the entire group stage of the Europa League – señor Giovani will join forces with Masters Kane, Carroll, Livermore and chums, to unleash the sort of youthful assault on the senses not seen since unkempt, pre-pubescent beat combo Hanson stormed to the top of the charts. It won’t all be acne and high-pitched voices though, as Pav, Bassong and Corluka will have to suffer the ignominy of babysitting duties tonight, while poor old Gomes has precious little to gain from a one-off appearance like this – play well and it will matter not, Friedel will return on Sunday; but drop a clanger and the pace at which he is chivvied towards the exit door will increase.
While the name is familiar enough, from various European competitions of yesteryear, I confess my knowledge of PAOK Salonika is minimal, and frankly, without wanting to irk the UEFA suits unduly, there is little to suggest that that tonight’s fixture will imprint itself indelibly in the minds of all those who scramble out of the office in time. With a further 15 games (I think) to go in order to win this trophy ‘Arry’s attitude of plain irritation towards it is understandable, and given that the kids are out in force an away draw – with no further injuries – would probably constitute a decent result.