Few things in life scream “Pointless Money-Making Charade!” quite like a Europa group stage game, but this one actually has relevance, sub-plots and all other sorts of curious goodies the like of which have rarely been seen on a Thursday night on Channel 5.On a formal note, this game is actually laden with group-deciding significance no less. We and the good folk of Rubin Kazan appear to be trotting along towards the dizzy heights of group leadership, so the glorious crown of UEFA Europa League Group A Victor is likely to be decided over 90 minutes at the Lane tonight, followed by a similar stint in some sprit-crushingly chilly corner of far-flung Siberia two weeks hence. I must confess that I tend not to wile away my hours examining the whys, wherefores and qualification criteria of the Europa League, but I suspect that winning the group would grant us relatively gentle opponents in the next round, so there is an incentive of sorts for triumphing over this Russian mob ce soir.
Moreover – they’re Russian! And we have Pav in our ranks! It will be like when Spock fought against the Vulcans! That’s right, a headline-writer’s dream, if Pav can somehow be cajoled to stop whingeing and don his shooting boots for the night. Might also help him secure the move back to the motherland that he presumably craves.
The usual phalanx of kids will presumably be shoved out there again, and it’s made for interesting viewing in previous weeks, so AANP graciously grants permission for the policy to continue. Defensively however we have something of a problem, as only Bassong and Kaboul have the requisite number of working limbs for this one, and with Premiership concerns on Sunday ‘Arry would probably prefer to rest the latter. As such, a case may be made for young Livermore to deputise at centre-back, because frankly I’m not sure if anyone else has the requisite bullet point on their CV. Rose, Townsend, Kane, Carroll and possibly Walker are also likely to feature, as well as Giovani, and anyone else returning from injury (Lennon? Pienaar? Kranjcar?)
Presumably it will be a much sterner test than Hearts, PAOK and the Irish lot; but the AANP fiver is still being slapped down on the side of “home win”.