Panathinaikos sound a touch miserable. Poor league form (DDLDW), captain ‘sacked’, two points deducted thanks to their fans behaviour last season and a 3-0 stuffing against Maribor in the Europa League. Now here’s a club with a fair few domestic trophies in genuine turmoil. This won’t be a clash of the Titans. But hopeful they will feel our wrath.
(and with any luck our performance will be more fluid than the last couple of sentences)
At least that’s the plan according to Andre Villas Boas who is determined to have a crack at this undervalued competition. We should line up with a fair amount of strength and confidence. Lloris between the sticks possibly the only change if we want to turn up and leave them in ruins. But more than likely we’ll see a similar side to the one that faced Lazio.
We’re making do quite well. VB is keeping it tight with selections and we can still look forward to the likes of Parker, Benny and Kaboul returning to the fold in the near future. All arguably first team ‘regulars’ – although whether they’re first choice by the time they’re back we’ll have to wait and see. Parker might have trouble dislodging Sandro but he’ll bring some extra bite for games that require it.
Add to them the likes of Smith, Townsend, Mason, Carroll and Falque (all available now) and we have a far more cohesive unit than we did last time out. A more solid blend of youth and seasoned quality. Last season consisted of a mis-match of benched players and others stuck somewhere between limbo and loan. Feels like so much more preparation has gone into it this time around.
Let’s not be forgetting the likes of Dawson and Huddlestone. The latter almost lost to Stoke. We might not have pound-for-pound replacements for certain first team positions but there’s more than enough about us to hassle and bully our way out of the group stages.
Livermore and Naughton still not available, Adebayor has only trained once – so the metamorphosis of Jermain Defoe will continue, from moth to butterfly. Although in Europe and importantly against Panathinaikos we could be treated to Dempsey up top again (although away from home, we might need a bit more in forward positions, so Dempsey behind Defoe will suit us well).
I’m actually fascinated by all this as it serves to delve deeper into the thinking of our coach. Does he select based on managing the fitness of key players with the league games in mind but without surrendering the chance of victory or does he involve players that will slowly be able to cover those same key players in the league – thus giving us a robust machine ready for any occasion. Rather than one that slows down with rust if it happens to rain?
Sigurdsson is one player I’d personally like to see involved at some point. If anything to get his career in Lilywhite kick-started as he’s so far struggled to find a groove.
Should be decent game for us. Should be a decent win.
Lennon - called up for England. Deserving, but once again, first thing that came to mind was: Don't get yourself injured. Same goes for our other selected men in Lilywhite. Be safe.