Waxing nostalgic tonight, I started to think back to Spurs and their recent run of semi or quarterfinal misery. We need not be reminded that Chelsea only need to provide a sniff of attacking impetus against Tottenham for linesman around England to quake in fear, and signal goals; but all kidding aside, that opened the floodgates and we were thrashed out of the FA Cup last year. Stamford Bridge could burn to the ground tonight and I wouldn't much care, but that result was not an injustice. We couldn't finish chances against Chelsea the whole of last year, forget that match. When we're beat, I can admit it, and we were that day.
Rewind a couple years to the famous tie against Real Madrid. I think I speak for most Spurs supporters when I say that we were optimistic, hopeful, yet realistic. Then Peter Crouch tried to gouge every Madrid player with rash, spindly-legged challenges in perhaps the most confusing fifteen to twenty minute shift ever put in by a striker. So long hope; hello fond memories of coming back against Young Boys at the Lane, going to the San Siro against both of the Milanese, and generally lighting up Europe with attacking football.
So what is the other near final I am thinking about, you ask? The FA Cup Semi against Pompey in 2010. I will spare some words and simply relay that, after that match, in the middle of a marvelous league run, I was left saying "That wasn't supposed to happen." Pompey fought the Blues valiantly in the final, but there was a certain emptiness to it all. Spurs were supposed to be there.
Which brings me to this year. The narrative is set for one of two things: 1) We win the Europa League or 2) a Semi-final tie against Chelsea. But in order for either of those things to happen we have to get by a plucky, seasoned European competitor. Many will say that Basel is not the Basel that knocked out Man Utd. last year, and that certain playmakers are not there anymore. That does not really address the issues at hand. While it is always advantageous to play against less skilled sides, Spurs seem to thrive in open games. Not so much in tactical battles of will and patience. See that Semifinal against Pompey. We were flying; they were on the way down. But they organized themselves, looked to counter, and took a chance. If you don't think this is a tactic that works in a one-off or the away leg of a tie, see Leeds vs. Spurs this year. See Jose Mourinho against Barca. See "the run that made most of us drink or weep heavily" last April and May. Check Basel's goals against and what we see is exactly what we struggle against. A team hell-bent on clogging passing lanes, and preventing the run-in behind the back four.
So, what do we do? I say we rotate the squad--heavily. I am not too hopeful that this will happen, but I can dream. (Also, an assist from the "Ancelotti's Milan" piece by Ed for some of the midfield logic. We don't correspond, but it got me thinking, anyway.)
Defense: Walker, Dawson, Caulker, BAE or Naughton (I honestly don't care. Somebody be better than dire at LB.)
NOTE: Snarfalicious pointed out that Kyle Walker is suspended, obviously, after I wrote this. I stand by the sentiment, but apologize for the memory lapse.
Here is why I want Daws paired with Walker, leaving the other spots to be rotated. What does Kyle Walker struggle with? Games like these. He will be able to get forward quite a bit and we should be more dangerous for it, but the best backs in the world don't get torched on the one or two chances the opposition creates. Kyle needs to play in games like these with a vocal leader, someone who is willing to communicate out on the pitch and Dawson is that guy. Plus, these two just need to be playing together to get that defensive understanding down. Rotate Caulker in for Vertonghen because I don't want to wear Jan down. Plus, while not as silky with his finishing, Caulker does provide quite a bit of drive from the back in addition to being a hell of a threat on set-pieces--when old, Scandinavian keepers aren't going Matrix on him. As for LB, whatever. I may cry into my #32 Spurs shirt if Benny doesn't regain his form, but there is a very good chance that he has looked better these last two years because teams were scared to attack down the left for fear of their decrepit RB being flayed by Bale. In any scenario, this will be an important spot on the pitch because any coach worth his Italian loafers noted Swansea swinging in crosses from the right like it was Saturday afternoon practice.
Midfield: Gylfi/Holtby, Carroll, Livermore
Things just got crazy. I don't know who will be the better ball winner between Gylfi or Lewis, but you know who should know that? AVB--and I'll trust him with the choice. However, ball winning in this sense is not like a Sandro-style shield. They would need to be the creative hub from higher up the pitch and absolute hounds for the ball when we lose possession in Basel's half. And if one of them runs their lungs empty in sixty minutes, we have the other one to bring on! Create, get the ball back, and if confused, get the ball to our deep-lying creator. Which leads us to Carroll. What do we often lack against packed in teams? Quick, adventurous, incisive passing from deeper on the pitch. And which two players could give us that threat? Huddlestone and Carroll. I pick Carroll because he is more mobile, a better dribbler, and at this point, needs to play a match like this. I don't care if he doesn't make one tackle; that is not what he is out there for. Pass the ball son. And maybe do this:
Playing Livermore, for me, is more about getting Scott and Dembele a rest. They would be prototypical for pressing and dictating the middle of the pitch, not as a shielding DM, but as a menacing box to box terrier, but it's quite obvious that Parker/Dembele will be the Premier League pairing so let's get Jake a run-out in a proper match. Once again, if he runs himself stupid, or we need more creativity at sixty minutes, we can bring on one of our twenty-seven contracted midfielders.
Forwards: Ade/Dempsey, Defoe/Ade, Lennon/Bale
Yeah, this isn't so decisive. However, I think our "real" strikers need to keep playing. They can't score, restore confidence, and ease the scoring burden that Jan Vertonghen is picking up by not playing, right? (Seeing what I just wrote and slightly panicking) Right??
I see it this way. Ade isn't half bad on the left; maybe he would benefit from being able to drift in from the flank, setting up his preferred foot, and playing one twos with Jerm...never mind, Defoe isn't passing back. But a better segue I couldn't ask for. Our own pocket striker needs to play in a match like this because, despite his limitations, I can never say that opposing back lines aren't scared of him finding a space to run in behind them. So good. If they are going to pack it in, let's make them pack it in and actually fear the CF poaching one. If he is dire, bring on Dempsey for the left, shifting Ade to the middle. Or something. Just score a goal, guys. Seriously.
Which brings us to the right side. I think this game is a great chance to rest Gareth. Honest. With the team I have already put out there we need a little width and Aaron, along with providing said width, has had a nice attacking partnership with Walker this year--let's keep it going.
And Bale would be on the bench, you know, just in case we need a thirty yard winner.
Let's be better than reactive, boys. Let's be better than near finalists.