January 21, 2016
I was going to try to go with clique-bait as a title, but I’m not sure it works and I’m not clever enough to think of something else witty. Anyway, I wanted to write a few words about last night, because I *really* enjoyed the match…
In a funny way that was one of my favourite performances of the season. Partly because it showed how many good options we have. #COYS
— Chris Miller (@WindyCOYS) January 20, 2016
We know we have a good squad, missing just a couple of players to make it a ‘complete’ squad — a striker and a defensive midfielder, yada yada yada. But, when we have rested players previously, the team has not always clicked. Last night it felt like it did, eventually.
The first ten minutes or so were pretty loose. Nabil Bentaleb was loose, the passing was loose, nothing was really coming off. We kept trying to do things ‘the right way’, though. We moved the ball quickly through the centre-backs and particularly through Tom Carroll and Bentaleb and got it into the final third as early as possible. The attacking quartet of Son Heung-min, Christian Eriksen, Erik Lamela and Nacer Chadli tried to play early passes between Leicester defenders or into channels and made aggressive runs in behind regularly enough to keep Leicester guessing. They didn’t often come off but the ideas were there. And then finally Son smashed a beauty in just before half-time and we were halfway there.
When Leicester came at us in the second half we were under pressure without ever really looking vulnerable. The second string centre-backs were doing a great job – Kevin Wimmer was as solid as ever and Eric Dier dropped in as if he’d never played anywhere else. Even Michel Vorm put in a steady performance.
It was pleasing to see a (mostly) second string play at a promising tempo and with a style nearly identical to that of the first team, and for the job to be done in such a professional way. It gives me hope that we *can* compete in three competitions, and I hope that it gives Mauricio Pochettino more confidence to be able to rotate more regularly, as several players are at risk of burn-out at this point.
Whether Son has done enough to force his way into the starting XI for the Palace game is to be seen, but we know from experience that Pochettino does tend to operate a meritocracy. Of course, he could legitimately be rotated in for any of the attacking midfielders without question of one of them being ‘dropped’, as all will need a break — particularly Alli.
And Bentaleb did himself no harm either. After a couple of dicey moments early on, he settled into the game and spread play early, with nice, firmly struck passes which got us moving forward quickly. That won’t have gone unnoticed and I think we can expect to see him get more game-time over the next few months.
Colchester United await in the next round, and another opportunity to give the second string a go – hopefully with Josh Onomah and Harry Winks getting some pitch-time. It’s all going so well; what could possibly go wrong?