The biggest mismatch in 149 year history of the FA Cup will take place this Sunday as Tottenham Hotspur visit 8th tier Marine AFC (who will wear some truly awesome shorts) in Crosby, just outside of Liverpool. Nobody really expects the hosts to give Spurs any trouble in this matchup, but it does raise the question as to just who will suit up for the club currently in fourth place in the Premier League table against a team of part-timers and amateurs who all have day jobs.
Jose Mourinho was respectful but focused in his pre-match press conference, saying that, yes he does plan to rotate and use the opportunity to rest some of his big-name players, but that he also wants to win and will play a strong side, because that’s what Marine wants.
He also hints that Spurs will play a pretty strong side. "If we lose would be lack of respect from us."— Charlie Eccleshare (@CDEccleshare) January 8, 2021
"The best way to respect them is to win."
"They want to play a #THFC first team, and we want to give them that respect."
"They don't want to play an under-23 side."
However, there will be some fringe and developmental players who will get a chance to be in the expanded, 20-man matchday squad, and the two names he mentioned specifically were midfielders Jack Clarke and Harvey White.
“Harvey and Jack they are U23s, they play U23s when we feel that they should go there and take minutes but they are professionals. They belong with the first team squad, they train with the first team squad since day one in pre-season. They played in the Europa League so let’s look at them as first team players and of course they will be involved in the game but they are involved so many times so it’s nothing new.
“With a starting 11 plus nine on the bench we are speaking about 20 players. I can tell you, in this 20 player we will take only one U18 player. So we will take one U18 player who will be on the bench, like we had also that in other matches. We had that in many other matches. One kid will be on the bench, so out of 20 only one. Apart from that we have 19 players from the first team squad.”
That obviously doesn’t mean either player is going to start the match, but it wouldn’t be at all surprising if they see some game time. We also don’t know who that U18 player is, but if the past is any indication it is likely going to be someone like 16-year olds Alfie Devine or Dane Scarlett.
In addition, Mourinho said that Gareth Bale wants to play against Marine, but that it’s not a done deal yet. Bale is recently returned from an injury (shocker!), but that Mourinho and Bale will make the decision as to whether he will play after today’s training.
“He trained today first time with us so tomorrow second time and tomorrow after training we will make a decision and what I can say and it’s also a way to show you the way we are looking, the respect we have for this fixture, is that Gareth told me he would like to go and would like to play so if tomorrow if the feelings are positive, Gareth will come.”
I love the FA Cup and I also understand the historic nature of this kind of match, the ultimate David vs. Goliath game. I suspect while we’ll see some reserve players start the match, we’ll also see players like Son Heung-Min and Harry Kane come off the bench late.
As much as I look at the upcoming fixture pile-up and panic, and as much as I want to rest Spurs’ most important players as much as possible, I also appreciate what Mourinho is saying about wanting to give Marine the respect it deserves by playing a first team squad. For these players, this is almost certainly the highlight of their (semi-)professional careers. They will likely tell their grandkids about the time they played against Harry Kane, Jose Mourinho, and the mighty Tottenham Hotspur in Marine’s magical, pandemic-blighted FA Cup run. Who are we to deny them that opportunity?