Just like most of our back four, I was caught by surprise by Basel FC last week despite my warning in my preview that they shouldn’t be underestimated. Their fans were colourful and loud, their team were slick and skilful and in Mohamed Salah possessed a player whom even that nice Theo Walcott would hesitate about giving 5 yards start to in a race to the physio’s table. Luckily for us, his finishing was as rubbish as the rest of the Swiss side so we didn’t suffer terminal damage and we go into Thursday’s second leg still alive and only one win away from the semi-finals.
That win though would be against the odds. Since beating the Gooners a month ago it’s been more roller than coaster. Sloppy goal concessions have gone toe to toe with injuries and all of a sudden there’s a fraughtness and tension in the air that has been absent since the opening few games of the season. AVB’s work so far in getting the club into its current position (both in European and domestic competition) deserves credit, but getting us further will be a stretch if Basel repeat last week’s display of zip and zest on their own patch, St Jakob-Park (the largest football stadium in Switzerland according to the ever reliable Wikipedia).
The lack of a game this weekend means that we don’t have to concern ourselves too much with preserving players, the lack of players means there isn’t much to preserve anyway. The half dozen or so unavailable through injury have left a big hole in the side (and makes it even more galling to read that Townsend was the Guardian’s man of the match at Loftus Rd at the weekend) but there is still enough to give progress a proper go. Even though we were second best last week we still scored twice and created a number of other opportunities. Some sign that we’ve learnt from the first game and they can’t attack with quite so much freedom would unsettle them, combine that with an early goal and…. hmm well, perhaps I have been inhaling London traffic fumes for too long after all.
Here’s an idea – how about playing Kyle Walker at left back? Radical I know but if we don’t do something about Salah he’s going to run us ragged again. His pace too demands that Lloris be included due to his speed off the line. Sigurdsson, Adebayor, Dembele, Parker, Dawson and Vertonghen; we need big performances from all these players.
In many ways attitude is going to be as important as tactics and selection. The target & focus should be on a narrow win. Concentration, taking our chances and taking as few risks as possible; we’ll not qualify without all of these.
The officials are from Portugal.
Deep breath everyone. COYS.
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