As those glorious triangles fade, etched into our retinas from the Clockwork Orange-style rewinds of Sunday's beautifully orchestrated game-winner by Ryan Mason, our visions turn to the burdensome fixture list ahead. Over the course of ten days, Spurs face demanding opposition which includes league leading Manchester City, a tricky Crystal Palace side, and the Woolwich Wanderers in the third round of the Capital One Cup. That said, this precarious run of games commences this Thursday as Tottenham face off in the Europa League against Azerbaijani side FK Qarabag, at White Hart Lane.
Anxiety has pulsed through the veins of supporters as the realities of our post deadline day roster has set in. Tottenham enter the middle of September without a bona fide back-up for Harry Kane or a like-for-like substitute for Eric Dier. While this thought has crippled the psyches of numerous fans, their fears were mere projections. With Kane and Dier marching onto the pitch every week for Spurs, their trepidations were never actualized. That is, until FK Qarabag came along.
Tottenham's congested slate of fixtures should remove Kane and Dier from the first team for our first Europa League tie— or at least one would hope. Both players are essential to Spurs' fortunes going forward and if there was one match to take off over the next week and a half, it would be against our foes from the Land of Fire™. Which begs the six hundred and fifty thousand pound question: if these two stalwarts are unavailable, who should take their place? Furthermore, which first team players deserve more minutes and which youth players deserve a shot with the first team? Finally, does our opposition actually wield flame and, if so, what dangers does this pose to our players? Let's discuss below.
If Clinton N'Jie were fit, this would be a clear choice. N'Jie needs games, he needs to work his way into the first team, and what better way to peacock than a Europa League fixture. While his status is unclear for Thursday, it seems unlikely that he will play, let alone start. Son Heung-Min is a candidate but it is tough to envision our expensive summer signing risking injury against Qarabag. Potentially he will be a late substitution for Tottenham, but only if our foray is more perilous than imagined.
With our two "back-ups" limited, Spurs must look toward other options from the attacking midfield. Nacer Chadli would be the optimal pick to start, if only because he might be then ruled out of the starting eleven for Sunday's match against Palace. Chadli was Poch's cameo choice against Stoke, but it feels like the manager is a bit too smitten with our irksome marine mammal to risk him against THE FLAME. Finally, there is Josh Onomah. The wiz-kid showed glimpses of his worth during preseason and is available for Europa League ties. He isn't a striker, but has qualities that make him a suitable antidote to our striker shortage. As such, he is just eighteen years old and should be rabid for a chance with the first team, however it may come. He is also really good — check out Kevin McCauley's prospect write-up on Onomah for further reading.
Our attacking band will have an interesting look to it. The candidates to feature are Chadli, Son, Carroll, Pritchard, Lamela, Townsend, Alli, and Onomah. Chadli is out because he is either getting rest or playing striker. Carroll is unlikely because he needs to serve in our depleted central midfield corps where Alli would probably feature as well. Sonny, as said above, seems a gratuitous risk to start and Onomah should be considered as a striking option. This leaves Lamela, Pritchard, and Townsend to start. Pritchard will be thrown out left, Townsend out right, and Lamela through the middle. Very exciting for Pritchard to get a full ninety in a lilywhite shirt and an opportunity for Lamela and Townsend to build on their sublime performances from Sunday.
Our central midfield pairing might be problematic during the match, but it is easy enough to predict who will play. Tom Carroll and Harry Winks are the clear choices to roam the center of the park for Thursday's match. Nabil Bentaleb, Ryan Mason, and Mousa Dembélé are likely still out with injury, while Delle Alli played sixty minutes on Sunday making it implausible (but not impossible!) for him to start again. Alli could feature as an impact substitution later in the match if the match necessitates it.
Michel Vorm is the safe bet to start, but it wouldn't be surprising to see Luke McGee get a shot between the sticks against a weaker side. The clearest cut choices to start on Thursday are our right-back and two center-back spots. Kieran Trippier and Kevin Wimmer look to make their first team debuts while Federico Fazio, rumored to be out the door to WBA this summer, should make his season debut as well.
The mountain of a question mark resides at the left back position. Danny Rose is the favorite to start when healthy, but a fully fit Rose saw the pine on Sunday against Sunderland. Was this a tactical decision from Pochettino or one that simply preserved minutes with an arduous fixture list ahead? Or has he not figured out which player he prefers at the left-back spot? From a tactical standpoint, one can make the case that an attacking Danny Rose was well-suited to plunder a porous Sunderland defense or that a more defensive Ben Davies was needed to sit back while the attacking five (including Mason) was given free reign to push forward. From the playing time vantage point, one can argue that Rose sitting against Sunderland allows him to play against THE FIRE, which equates to him missing Crystal Palace, but being fit for our matches against the Scum and City. Yet this logic leaves holes in Poch's tactical acumen. Under the premise that Rose is the attacking left-back and Davies the more defensive, wouldn't Poch want Davies ready to feature against Arsenal and City later next week? In this case Davies would have to start on Thursday and sit on Sunday. All of this is perplexing — especially when one considers that the Walker / Trippier right-back situation, a near carbon copy of the Rose / Davies dilemma, has been utterly one-sided.
Davies starts against FK Qarabag and Arsenal in the cup, with Rose getting the nod against Palace and City in the Premier League.
What do you think of the proposed lineup? Let me know in the comments below!