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(Back Catalogue) West Ham 1-0 Spurs: Time For A Settled XI?

Due to the horrors of the real world (new flat! new flat!), a near-lethal bout of man-flu and, most pertinently, a mightily ropey wi-fi connection, the AANP ramblings of recent weeks have been trapped, like the three evil types inside the glass prison in Superman 2, on a usb stick, unable to make it to the interweb. However, to ease the pain of the international break, this back-catalogue of previews and match reports will now finally see the light of day – which means that you lucky things will be able to relive all the hundred-miles-an-hour excitement of the past three weeks or so! Huzzah!

26/9/2010: Impossible to gauge, but I suspect I’m not alone in thinking that we would not be in this predicament if we did not have two games per week. Admittedly eight points from six games, and ninth position at this early stage, is hardly the most critical situation, but four points from the quadruple-header of Wigan, Wolves, West Brom and West Ham is pretty shoddy form, make no mistake.

Time to for a Settled XI?

I understand the principle of chopping and changing, resting players if possible and utilising our sizeable squad for the rigours of a two-games-per-week season, but with our league form now looking ropey I would quite happily see ‘Arry simply select his strongest available XI, irrespective of the competition, for the next half dozen fixtures or so. The Ledley situation is obviously the delicate issue here, but another month of haemorrhaged Premiership points would probably leave us playing catch-up in the bid to finish fourth again. Forget the notion of game-time for Sergeant Wilson, Jenas, Keane etc – could we not just pick our strongest 4-4-2 and try to rack up a few wins?

Lashings of Mediocrity

Rant over. The barrage of the West Ham goal for the last half hour or so was all very well, but our heroes were found badly wanting in the first half. There were some bright moments, particularly the interplay of Modders and VDV, but by and large we were second best to a team who simply appeared to want it more.

Rumours of Jenas’ latest resurgence looked woefully inaccurate, as he turned in the sort of anonymous, toothless display that has had all 36,000 at the Lane shrieking vitriol at him week in and week out for around ten years. Perhaps more bothersome, Hudd was also well below par, while Aaron Lennon’s shaved eyebrow does not look half as menacing when etched across a moody, frustrated visage. The back-four looked about as makeshift as Bale-Corluka-Bassong-Hutton sounds. Up in attack poor old Crouchy was on the whole starved both of service and company. If we persist with this 4-5-1 malarkey – and if it means more of the Modders-VDV roadshow there is a compelling reason to do so – we blinking well need a forward who can put the “1” into 4-5-1.

Admittedly, but for the fingertips of Green (barely recognisable from that World Cup clown) and the width of the woodwork, we might be purring admiringly about this being a well-ground out away point or three, but that is one for a parallel universe. Our lot looked a long way off another top-four challenge, and the players have the air of those who consider their Chamipons League status to equate to a cloak of invincibility from criticism. It is plain darn worrying that the urgency to scrape every point going, which by and large was present last season, is lacking this time around. Last season, falling behind at Upton Park meant fighting back and winning, because there was fourth place to play for, and every point gained in autumn would prove precious come May. This time around the thought of May, and points, and fourth, seems of less concern, a wrong that needs righting pronto.

West Ham – Spurs Preview

25/9/2010: A few years ago, during the glory glory days of Christian Gross and Gerry Francis, a trip to the bottom team would have been precisely the sort of fixture our heroes would lose. Back then, we were also the team against which a generally useless foreign striker, without a goal in half a dozen games since arriving in England, would break his duck; or when up against a team that had gone four games without a goal, we would find ourselves two down by half-time.

In recent years, and last season in particular, we appeared to have cured these maladies. Travel to a team in the relegation zone, and last season we tended to dig in and grab all three points. As a reward for such pains we now get to hear the Champions League theme tune every week or two. Admittedly there were hiccups at home, but generally we fared well at the Lane, and showed most un-Tottenham like fight on our travels.

Not quite sure where we stand this season however – the win at Stoke was marvellous, the home defeat to a Wigan team that had, until that point, been doing everything in their power to cast themselves as the division’s whipping-boys, was painfully reminiscent of the Francis/Gross eras.

So tomorrow off we toddle to those delightful folk at Upton Park, for a game against the bottom team in the Premiership, which on paper at least spells out “three points” in block capitals and stencil font, as used to such emphatic effect in the A-Team. The nagging worry is that with all the bells and whistles of the Champions League, back in the Premiership we are morphing back into the Francis/Gross teams.

Mercifully, the Tottenham circa 2010 can be distinguished from its 1990s equivalents by a handful of genuinely top-notch attackers. In van der Vaart, Modders and Bale we have three little nuggets of awesomeness, and even should the rest of them fail to fire on the requisite number of cylinders, I back these three, between them, to do enough for three points.

 

 

Ukraine 1-0 England: Silver Linings

Do excuse me while I momentarily don my England hat: this missive, from one of the souls frequently to be found loitering around AANP Towers, appeared on football365.com earlier today:

Whatever the rights and wrongs of Rio’s concentration lapse, the curious manner in which Green was sent off, the withdrawal of Lennon and the fact that we lost, it strikes me as far more useful than if we’d played with 11 and coasted to a comfy victory. We’ve had it all our own way so far in this campaign – and deservedly so by and large, we’ve earned it – so with qualification in the bag a more testing scenario ought to have been of much greater benefit in preparing for the World Cup. Playing almost the whole game with ten men, and chasing the game for a good hour, will hopefully have been vaguely educational for the players, who can expect far sterner tests throughout the World Cup Finals than they’ve received in the Qualifiers.

In particular, I was glad that the less proven and less experienced international players, like Johnson and Carrick, got to experience a tricky game away from home, in a testing atmosphere and against a team who desperately wanted a win. I would hope they’ll learn a lot more from that than they would have done in another 4-1 romp at Wembley. Knowing what strategy we adopt with ten men could also prove a handy lesson come South Africa.

For the same reason, I see a silver lining in Rooney’s withdrawal for the Belarus game. Admittedly they’re not the toughest opponents so we should be able to beat them even without our top players, but just in terms of preparation for the World Cup, playing a competitive game without Rooney is necessary for the team to know how to adapt. We struggled without him in crunch games in previous tournaments, and while he’s a dead cert to start when available, we need to have at least some semblance of a plan to cope without him. In both 2004 and 2006 we were knocked out when he exited, and there’s always a possibility he’ll be injured/suspended for a crucial game or two in 2010. Blessings in disguise, I tell ye.

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