The Swans pay a visit to Wembley Stadium for this Saturday’s late kick off but there’s no promotion or trophy at stake under the arch this time – just three precious Premier League points as we take on our bogey side Spurs.
This time it is the BT Sport cameras that will beam the Swans’ performance to billions and Paul Clement will be hoping his players put on a better show than they did in last Sunday’s anti-climatic home defeat at the hands of Newcastle. It couldn’t be a more difficult fixture for that improvement to occur in though as we go up against a side we’ve never beaten in the Premier League, a rampant Spurs that are bang in form at the moment.
However, there are a couple of things in our favour as Spurs have struggled for form at their temporary Wembley home and they are also coming into the game on the back of a Champions League fixture earlier in the week. Tenuous though these things may be, a Swans fan will grab any straw on offer when Spurs are involved having watched us get beaten ten times out of twelve since our return to the top flight.
You won’t find many Swans fans that won’t be watching this one with this hands mostly over their eyes – you’d have to be a total optimist or a frequent recreational drug user to be confident of anything from this fixture – but the stinging criticism aimed at players and manager after Newcastle should at least mean that Spurs have to work for anything they get today.
And small incentives though they may be, the Swans are actually chasing two records this evening – a new club record of four consecutive top-flight clean sheets away from home and remaining unbeaten in their opening three top flight matches for the first time. A nil-nil draw would give us both if those milestones as well as a welcome point…can we achieve that? Let’s take a look…
There are no new injuries for Paul Clement to fret about, just a number of selection dilemmas to ponder over. With more midfielders than fans at a Cardiff home game there are almost infinite options in the centre of the park, but I think the focus will be at the back with Clement reverting back to a 3-5-2 formation. This would make sense given Spurs attacking prowess from wing back coupled with the wide open spaces of Wembley.
Alfie Mawson and Fede Fernandez are automatic picks now and Mike van der Hoorn would join them at the heart of defence with Naughton and Olsson supplying the width as wing backs. As well as nullifying Aurier and former Swan Ben Davies out wide, this system would also serve to crowd out the space the mischievous Christian Eriksen and the deadly Harry Kane have to operate in.
To further stifle Eriksen’s influence I’d play Clucas just in front of the back three in a similar set up to his debut against Palace but if course Clement also has the tried and tested Leon Britton and the totally untried Roque Mesa at his disposal to perform this role. The absence of both these players is mystifying…Britton was the difference at the end of last season and he’s still the first name on my team sheet when he’s fit and available. As for Mesa, I’m not sure why Clement feels he needs so much time to adapt to the Premier League and a new country whilst young lad Renato Sanches gets dropped in the grinder after two days in the country! Given the heavy transfer fee, the longer Mesa is absent from the side the more questions will be asked on whether we’ve bought ourselves another Borja.
Having mentioned Sanches I suspect that Clement will start with his Portuguese protege again this afternoon – to do anything else would probably dent the young man’s confidence even further. The slaughtering Sanches received after that Newcastle game was way, way over the top. Okay, nobody could argue that he had a good game but he was far from the worst player in a Swans shirt that afternoon, he showed glimpses of the undoubted talent he has and he did at least try to get us moving forward now and again! One of the biggest faults in Swans sides over recent years is players hiding behind the success of an easy pass. Sanches lost the ball too many times – if course he did – but on occasions it was because he was showing some ambition where his team mates were only showing cowardice.
If it is a three in midfield then Tom Carroll is likely to get the nod and that will mean Leroy Fer will be the unlucky one to stand down; Fer has his critics but again he does provide some much needed “go forward” at times, but his lack of concentration and often lethargic approach to tracking back would be catastrophic against a powerful and free flowing side like Tottenham. Carroll would be a safer option, but he really needs to step up his game and start taking some responsibility again. His performance against Newcastle was lame at best, too often the easy pass backwards taken and his set piece delivery left an awful lot to be desired. Carroll is much better than that and I hope he shows it this evening.
Up top, the game comes too early for Wilf Bony who is still a long way off proper match fitness and so I expect to see Tammy Abraham partnered by Jordan Ayew again. It will be a long evening for both players as i suspect they won’t see an awful lot of the ball. Bony will likely come on late in the game to offer a focal point for keeping the ball, probably after one of the two starters has run himself into the ground chasing shadows.
Pochetino’s men will be buoyed after a big win over Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League, which itself came hot on the heels of a thumping away victory over Everton. Confidence is surging through Spurs veins at the moment and goals are proving easy to come by. That’s not too surprising when you have Harry Kane in your side and Christian Eriksen servicing him (ooh ‘er Missus).
As if that wasn’t dangerous enough for the Swans defence Spurs welcome back Dele Alli from suspension. Of course Swans fans will be more than aware of the danger Dele poses simply by falling over – but the anger of that naked piece of cheating last season shouldn’t cloud the fact that Alli is a very good player that does a lot of damage arriving late in the box.
Behind that trio of terrors Pochetino will choose between Dembele or young Harry Winks to partner Eric Dier in midfield, the latter providing the defensive back up to allow one of Dembele or Winks to push forward whenever Spurs have the ball – which is likely to be fairly often this evening.
Tottenham are very adept at playing five at the back and Ben Davies is thriving at left wing back, to the extent that Tottenham are not really missing Danny Rose. Davies’ delivery has been excellent of late and it will be something that really needs to be stopped at source. On the other flank new boy Serge Aurier has slotted in perfectly has the other deadline day capture Davinson Sanchez, a centre half looking entirely at home with Alderweireld and jan Vertonghen alongside him.
And then on the bench…we have the imposing spectre of Fernando Llorente just waiting to come back to haunt us…!
A little ambition is required! That may seem a hypocritical suggestion given how I’ve outlined our problems and poor record against Spurs but simply if we sit back and look to defend for our lives from the outset we’ll get stuffed. If we cough up the chances that Southampton had against us then Kane and co. will fill their boots. Yes we need to keep it tight and Spurs will have a lot of the ball; but when play breaks down we have to look forward quickly. An early ball into the channels for the pacy Abraham, a player always lurking on the last shoulder, might just catch out Tottenham. there’s a huge onus on Abraham to take whatever chances come his way today because he won;t get many, that’s for sure.
THE DANGER MAN
Take your pick really – Spurs are packed with quality. Kane gets all the headlines but Eriksen behind him is a super creator and he’s hurt the Swans badly in games gone by with his excellent free kick ability. Whoever plays in that defensive midfield slot today – Clucas most likely – will have to be switched on for the entire 90 minutes to keep Eriksen from influencing the result.
Try as we might we just can’t get anything out of Spurs, especially away from home. But I’m going to tip us for a point this afternoon! And it’s not just out of hope over expectation either. Tottenham’s exertions in the Champions League for the first time this season may have an effect in the later stages and if we can stay in the game for long enough it might become a factor. There’s also a sense of possible over confidence, certainly amongst Spurs fan who are taking a heavy win for granted. I don’t see us scoring but I can see us frustrating Tottenham and keeping them out – but we have to be brave and take the game to our opponents at times else one way traffic will lead to an inevitable breaching of the white wall. Stung by criticism this week, Swans players will put in a shift and bring home a point from a goalless encounter.
Is the ATFV Editor mad to back a draw against such formidable opponents? Will Spurs run riot or will the Ed be triumphantly shouting “I told you so” at the celebrating Swans fans come 7:15pm? Sound off in the comments and offer YOUR prediction!