Yet again we have to put aside thoughts of the Premier League and concentrate instead on the latest foray into European competition.
I know many of you believe that the Europa League is a third or even fourth rate competition but it gives the team, the individual players and the coaches something new and something different and, of course, different opponents. It is – in short – good experience for when we come to play in the Champions League.
Far too many complain that we have to play on a Thursday and then playing a league match on the Sunday upsets the balance of the squad, and the way it prepares for the League but what is the difference between playing on a Tuesday or Wednesday and then playing on a Saturday or Sunday. Virtually none.
It gives the Manager the opportunity to try out new options, different players – those that are on the fringe of the first team, those that haven´t had a game for a while or who have just come back from injury – and maybe even try a new formation. This is afterall what ´Arry and AVB did with some measure of success leading us through the group stages every time.
This season should be very little different but who could make the team this coming Thursday? Who is in need of game time to test their fitness, who is returning from a lay-off or injury?
Assuming for a moment that everyone is fully fit – but maybe not yet fully match fit – this is the perfect opportunity for Pochettino to see some of those who have yet to feature in pre- season.
We have, for example, five players who all were involved in the latter stages of the World Cup, were therefore late back into training and have not had a proper pre-season let alone a pre season game. Could Vorm, Vertonghen, Dembele, Chadli and Paulinho all start?
Add in the couple of players who have yet to play due to injury – Walker and Chirches (assuming that they are fit and apparently both were in contention last weekend) – plus those that did not play against WetSpam – Davies, Dawson, Sandro and Soldado – and suddenly we have a starting eleven packed full of internationals, full of experience and all raring to go.
What a line up that would be, but how to accommodate them all.
Quite simply by adopting one of the formations used extensively at the World Cup – three central defenders, two wing backs, a diamond shaped midfield and a lone striker, meaning the line up could be –
Chiriches Dawson Vertonghen
I am not for one moment suggesting that Pochettino will go with such a line up or formation but it is one of many options that he could consider.
But what of our opponents?
AEL Limassol of Cyprus are one of three teams in Limassol to call the Tsirion (or Olympic) Stadium their home. The match this Thursday has however been moved to the Antonis Papadopoulos Stadium in Larnaca as it has a bigger capacity.
Perpetual underachievers for many years AEL won the Cyprus League in 2012 and only narrowly missed out on the double when losing the Cypriot Cup. In 2013 they finished second in the League.
Last season was their first in European competition for ten years and having beaten Linfield and Partizan in the initial qualifying stages of the Champions League they were defeated by Anderlecht and dropped into the Europa League where they lost every group stage game.
They are currently ranked as 185th best team in Europe by UEFA. By contrast we are 19th. They do have one thing in common with us – a propensity for changing managers. They have now had eight different managers since 1st January 2010, and 21 since the beginning of the century – that´s one and a half every season for 14 years – even we cannot compete with a record like that.
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