What did any of that mean? Is it another Marine/Wycombe tease? Will we get drawn against a proper side on Friday and realise this trophy could be as elusive as all the rest? Are Dele and Bale simply demonstrating to another audience—not us, not Jose, not even Levy though he has a role to play—that they are worthy? Did we really put substitutes on the pitch named Scarlett and John? Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn. This was fun with a capital F and Lord knows we need some these days.
Let’s do the game then speculate about the implications. Dele would have been MOTM without that stupendous goal. But man, what a goal it was. Expletive deleted Giroud—that was the real article. And he was happy all game—sure a couple of the flicks and passes didn’t work—he lost possession needlessly a couple of times, but so what? The two passes to Vinicius and Bale were both picture-perfect—the joy in his face when Bale finished was infectious.
For the first time in more than a year we got a glimpse of the player that so recently in our club’s history such fuss was being made over. And I thought his fellow attackers—Lamela in particular, but even Bergwijn and Vinicius, were trying the short flicks, the quick passes, the triangular game that our London rivals (and of course City) have made a part of their repertoire at various points over the last decade. It didn’t always work—it didn’t often work. But the ambition was there. Lamela was quite good but then got a bit selfish or perhaps he could have freed someone else for a goal. Vinicius got two, should have had three, could easily have had four, missing a free header and then delaying too much when he rounded the keeper when a quick decisive finish was all that was needed. Bergwijn did his usual “everything looks good until the finish” routine.
Bale was class personified—again—when he came on. Sure the opposition was poor. Sure it was incongruous to seem him out there with the likes of Scarlett and John and Lavinier those last ten minutes. But the man hasn’t forgotten just what he is capable of doing. I would be shocked if he doesn’t start against Burnley. Both he and Dele? Seems a bridge too far though perhaps Jose will be tempted.
I think it more likely that Lucas gets the nod in front of Tanguy and Hojgberg as Jose tries to break down whatever Dyche has planned with pace in the form of Lucas and Sonny plus Bale and Kane. Winks and Sissoko were both more anonymous but that’s not a bad thing—they didn’t make sloppy mistakes, nor, by and large, did Dier or Toby. Doherty continues to be a bit of a mystery but I thought Davies grew into this game and his slalom move set up Dele for the pass to Vinicius. I thought there was a fair amount of understanding between him and both Dele and Bergwijn going down the left flank.
Carlos is limited but there are moments when you can see a decent striker there—holding the ball up, trying to make a wing pass, looking for teammates, and he did finish well twice after the misses. Scarlett’s pressing freed the ball for his second goal—we’ve heard about Scarlett’s potential- we probably won’t see him again this season but there is the promise.
Now what? Bale clearly should start as much as possible. Dele clearly should be playing—if only from the bench—as much as possible. Depending on the Europa draw and how the fixture list piles up, Jose has some selection questions. How does he work Lo Celso back in? Will it be Reguilon League and Davies Europa? Aurier League and Doherty Europa? Are we ever going back to three in the back again? Since he isn’t listed on the Europa squad and we are out of other cup games until the Wembley final, when will Rodon get another chance? Or Tanganga? Sanchez must be deep in the doghouse. Does Lamela now get the nod over Lucas and Bergwijn—or do he and Bale not fit together as well? How hard are we going to go for Top Four—or are league games really a more half-hearted attempt to get Europa League status as a backstop to a defeat this year to preserve any European competition next season?
Surely Bale won’t stay another year—but what about Dele? Can we afford to lose him? Particularly if one of Son or Kane asks out? Does it depend on the identity of the manager? Too may questions, too little time. For now, let’s accept that when Lo Celso returns this team will be as healthy and ready to win as at any point this season. The defence may still be a disaster, but that fix won’t happen before summer. Dele and Gareth are back. The manager needs them. Their teammates need them. We need them. Let’s hope for a rousing final three months.
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