Preliminaries in Cup matches this season takes on a special significance (more so than previous seasons). This season we’ve got great quality on the benches. Our bread and butter is the Premier league, which means we’ve got to constantly put out our best side. Cup matches, at least in the earlier stages, gives top teams a chance to see those players that usually can’t get a place in the first team, a chance to shine; i.e. fight for a first team place.
I am not sure that AVB knows which is his best team yet but I think he is getting there. The defeat by West Ham forced him to make significant changes. Those changes made a difference against Aston Villa at Villa Park and Hull at White Hart Lane.
We’ve won all our preliminaries so far with good and reasonably easy performances; with Sheriff in the Europa League giving us the most problems. So our second 11 are jumping up to be noticed; notably players like Defoe, Sandro, Holtby, Naughton, Lennon (after coming back from fitness), Lamela, Friedel, Kaboul, Fryers, Capoue, Kane and Chiriches to name but a few. How things will pan out when we get past the preliminary stages and we get stiffer competition will be interesting to see. We know that AVB takes the Europa League seriously so he might not take so many risks and stick closely to the team that is playing in the league once we get to the knock out stages. The Capital one cup I think he will take more risks. The FA Cup will be an interesting proposition. That might depend on where we are at the beginning of 2014. If we are doing well he will risk a stronger team (unless we get weaker opposition in the FA Cup) and if we are still the Capital One Cup, well, who knows. But a cup win will do his reputation no harm, even if that Cup is only the Capital One Trophy.
Our next Preliminary match will be against Hull City in the Capital One Cup, for a place in the quarter finals. Hull played defensive football when we met on Sunday, but this time around there can be no draw, only a loser and a winner. They’ve either got to come out and attack, exposing themselves at the back or play defensive, as they did against us in the Premier League, and try to play for a penalty shootout. Which is more of a lottery than a competitive performance. I think Hull will have a do or die attitude; in other words nothing to lose but plenty to gain. Steve Bruce will have fewer options and will play the best team he has got. AVB will look at it tactically and what matches will follow. But with hungry players at his disposal I am going for a Spurs victory. I don’t expect it to go to penalties. If Spurs get an early goal then it will give Hull no other choice but to take risks and throw everything at us. Which will suit Spurs.
So preliminaries will do us plenty of good if AVB can tactically get it right. And those that perform well will – hopefully, they will be thinking – get a look in. Because once we’ve gone past such stages and certain players haven’t shined then it will get more difficult to get into Spurs first team; other than through injury to a fellow team mate.
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