So here we go, into the unknown. We’re out of our comfort zone and embarking on a journey we hoped we’d never have make.
No, I don’t mean the District line, Putney Bridge and Craven Cottage, what I do mean is going in to Sunday’s game with Fulham (and possibly a few more after this weekend) probably without our top three goal scorers, no Harry, no Son and no Lucas. Hm.
Where does that leave us? Up the creek without a striker? Well, not quite. Step forward, Fernando Llorente, your time has come. As immobile, past their best strikers go, Llorente has proved a lethal weapon against the lower division teams – two hat-tricks in two seasons in the FA Cup, but in the Premier League (and the Champions League) he’s been used more as a battering ram with limited, to put it politely, success.
If Son were available then he would be the automatic replacement as his partnership with Dele and Eriksen has in past seasons worked wonderfully well when Harry’s ankle has let him down, without him though, I’m not sure we’ve got a similar option. Erik Lamela has been touted as a ‘false number 9’ but he lacks the speed and finishing skills of an in-form Sonny. Playing Dele in front of the Argentine and Eriksen might be a better option if the stately slowness of Llorente rules him out as a starter.
We shall see.
Up front isn’t the only area of the team where Pochettino has decisions to make. We are desperately short in central midfield, especially if Dele is used up front. There is no Sissoko, no Wanyama and of course no Dembele. There is Winks, maybe Dier and there is Skipp. Erm. That’s it. Toby played several games in that position for Southampton, he might be an experienced option alongside Winks. Rose could ‘do a job’ on the left hand side of a balanced midfield maybe.
If we try a 3-5-2 we could end up with Hugo, Trips, Davies, Sanchez, Toby, Vertonghen, Winks, Eriksen, Dele, Lamela which wouldn’t be dreadful. Llorente and Rose could come on if the system needed changing, Skipp or Diet if a boost in numbers in midfield was needed.
I haven’t a clue though really, I drive a desk not manage a football team.
Like an oil tanker, Fulham are taking time doing their hoped for 180 degree turn following the appointment of Ranieri. The Tinkerman’s priority was to plug holes in one of the leakiest defences seen in the top flight for many a year, a task so far in which he’s made some progress, but not much. Clean sheets against Huddersfield and Newcastle were their first of the campaign but in the past few weeks they’ve shipped four against the filthy gooners and Man Utd and two each against West Ham, Oldham and Burnley. They did get a draw against Wolves though which is more than we could do.
The Cottager remain in deep do-do. They are 19th and six points from safety if you take into account their rotten goal difference. Their last game of the season is at home to Newcastle, they’ll be pleased if they are still in with a shout of staying up when they get to that point. One benefit of them not pulling themselves out of the mire, Ryan Sessgenon’s availability and price may suddenly alter dramatically if the worst happens.
That’s in the future though. For the moment we are reliant on Poch’s ability to pull rabbits from his Panama. Positive thinking is his credo, one that will be sorely tested at the weekend.
Craig Pawson is the referee.
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