Spurs have played four cup games this season and have won the lot scoring fifteen goals and conceding none. Last night, following a victory at Aston Villa almost as easy as last week’s summary dismissal of Tromso, Arsenal fan @OldSkoolAFC tweeted: ‘Spurs played practically their best team against Villa's reserves haha small club mentality’.
It’s easy to see how you could mistake last night’s line up for the first team, bursting as it was with Brazilian, Dutch, German, Argentinean and English international talent. But the truth is Andre Villas Boas had made no fewer than eight changes to the team that achieved the impressive Premier League victory at Cardiff City on Sunday.
Unlike Arsenal, Tottenham have a squad so strong that they can field two different elevens capable of giving any other top-flight side a thorough examination.
Which leaves AVB with the manager’s classic ‘nice problem to have’. On Saturday Spurs face Chelsea at White Hart Lane. If there is any game this season in which AVB will want to field his strongest team, this is it. So who does he play?
Lloris will certainly start in goal. Walker, looking better and better after early season doubts, will be the right back. Rose, a revelation, will start at left back assuming, as expected, he’s back from injury.
Dawson and Vertonghen - the incumbents - will remain in central defence (although in the coming weeks Dawson will come under pressure from Romanian skipper Chiriches and - fitness permitting - the imposing Younes Kaboul).
The back of the Midfield is harder to call. Dembele and Paulinho have started in the league since the injury to the impressive Capoue. But against Chelsea, AVB may be tempted to add the steel of Sandro who was at his scary best again last night. If so, expect Dembele to be benched.
Ahead of them, in the playmaker slot, Lewis Holtby’s brilliant cup form would get him into almost any other team in Europe. But Christian Eriksen is the man in possession and his recent reviews have been equally rave, so he’ll be preferred.
In the wide positions, threats to Sigurdsson and Townsend come from Lamela and the fit again Chadli. (The game comes too soon for the suddenly underrated Lennon). While Chadli’s injury has resulted in him slipping down the pecking order, Lamela looks more than ready and as the club’s record signing, his chance must surely come soon. But Sigurdsson scored twice in the last home league game and the directness and pace which has propelled Townsend into the England squad is likely to be as difficult to resist for AVB as it is for Premier League defences. Both were rested last night (Sigurdsson wasn’t even on the bench), which suggests Lamela’s role will be a cameo again.
At centre forward, what more can Jermain Defoe do? Two goals last week in the Europa League, two more this week in the Capital One Cup, each of them smart, expert finishes. But the pricey Roberto Soldado, other than not scoring in three games, has done little wrong and will expect to remain first choice.
In the league, AVB hasn’t gone in for much rotation and while strong cases can be made for Sandro and Lamela in place of, say, Dembele and Sigurdsson, it’s probable that he’ll not want to tinker.
Besides, following last weekend’s late show at Cardiff orchestrated by substitutes Holtby and Lamela, he knows that if plan ‘A’ falters there’s one hell of a plan ‘B’.
So for Saturday, assuming no fresh injuries, expect: Lloris, Walker, Dawson, Vertonghen, Rose, Dembele, Paulinho, Eriksen, Sigurdsson, Townsend, Soldado.
As for @OldSkoolAFC, let’s see what Arsenal’s League Cup line up looks like when it trots out at the Hawthorns tonight.