Forgive me for being a bit off the pace this week. Hopefully, right after the start of the new year, you'll see a much more organized and timely Cartilage Free Captain. Tottenham Hotspur play Norwich City today, as I'm sure all of you knew, and you've probably also figured out that I am mildly concerned. Norwich City's form is very good for their talent level, Grant Holt is quickly becoming this year's Charlie Adam, and we're dealing with some injury issues. A Sebastien Bassong - William Gallas central defense pairing is likely, and we're still without Aaron Lennon.
The good news is that Rafael Van der Vaart is surprisingly fit and that he will be in the 18-man squad today. If he's fit enough to be in the team, I presume that he is fit enough to start. I can only hope that we return to the unbalanced 4-3-3 we played against Chelsea, with Luka Modric in the center ahead of Scott Parker and Sandro, with Bale playing as a true left winger and VDV cutting inside.
And honestly, even if Rafa can't start, I want to see that exact setup. Modric on the wing in the second half of the Chelsea game was a disaster, and I don't want to see it again. Even against Norwich, a team that isn't anywhere near as good in the center of the park as Chelsea, I don't want to see that for a minute. I am now VERY much on the "Never take Luka out of the middle" bandwagon.
So who are the other options? They're not good. Steven Pienaar, Giovani dos Santos, and Niko Kranjcar. These are either players who I don't think are particularly great or players who I don't really like as right wingers in this system. However, I like all of them MUCH more than 4-4-2 with our current personnel or anything involving Luka Modric out of the center of the park. I am okay with any of the three playing instead of 4-4-2. More likely than not, we'll get Rafa on the right. If I see two strikers on the team sheet, I'm going to scream before I even see the midfield.
Norwich could line up with either a 4-4-2 or a 4-5-1, though I expect them to put two strikers up top and really try to put our makeshift CB pairing under pressure at home. They're a technically sound side for a newly promoted club on a small budget, and their strikers are both good in the air and good with their feet.
I'm not optimistic about this game because of our current fitness concerns, but we're still going to have a lot of quality on the pitch. For that reason, I would not be the least bit surprised with a multiple goal win, even though I'm predicting a 1-1 draw.
Norwich City vs. Tottenham Hotspur
Game Date/Time: Tuesday, Dec. 27, 2:30 p.m. ET, 7:30 p.m. local
Venue: Carrow Road, Norwich, England
TV: FOX Soccer Channel (USA - English), FOX Deportes (USA - Spanish), Sportsnet World (Canada), Sky Sports 1 (UK)