Spurs-Blades League Cup preview
There’s life in the old blog yet (sort of). It’s a 1FITG derby for @rktweets and @josephclift, with Tottenham and Sheffield United meeting for the first time since the blog started. What better reason to dust down the blog and preview the semi-final.
First up, giant killer hopefuls United.
RK: What’s the deal with Sheff United these days?
JC: It’s a bit of a frustrating time at the minute. Everyone hoped that Nigel Clough would continue the form we saw the 2nd half of last season, but it’s just not materialised. We’ve dropped so many points at home and automatic promotion now seems out of reach. Financially we’re doing ok, though the investment of Prince Abdullah has been less “game-changing” as it was billed at the time, and more “game-stabilising”. Obviously we’re delighted with the cup successes this season – but we really need to kick on in the league.
RK: Why aren’t you higher up in the league?
JC: Many fans will highlight the lack of a goalscorer, but our excellent run last year came while up top we played Jose Baxter (technically not a striker) and Chris Porter (technically not a footballer). The midfield has offered less of a goal threat, and our defence has been leakier. We’ve signed 11 players since that season ended – only around half of those have actually worked out so far.
RK: What kind of game will you play vs Spurs?
JC: The game we love. We’ll sit back and try and keep it tight, looking to press and break quickly when the opportunities present themselves. It’s a formula that’s worked a treat against Villa, Fulham, West Ham, Southampton and QPR under Clough.
RK: Who are the danger men?
JC: Jamie Murphy should be up against Kyle Walker, which will be an interesting battle – we both know that Walker can at times be a bit frail defensively. On the other flank, Campbell-Ryce gave ‘Arry’s ‘Oops the run around the other week. Assuming he starts up front, Marc McNulty is our only real natural goalscorer on the books – excellent vs Southampton in the quarters.
RK: Who worries you in the Spurs team?
JC: Christian Eriksen and Harry Kane could cause us serious problems. Obviously Walker is going to grab a goal – that’s a given. But he’s a Blade, so maybe it’ll be at the other end.
RK: What kind of team do you struggle against/do well against?
JC: Teams that sit back and expect us to come at them are a nightmare – we just don’t appear to have the right players to break them down. In a recent interview, agreed with the suggestion that the team is better suited to playing Championship and Premier League opposition than League 1. Our other games this month are away to Preston and home to Swindon – I genuinely believe we have a better chance of beating Spurs than beating either of them.
RK: Would you rather get to a final or get promoted?
JC: Promoted. But I would take winning it over promotion. The last thing we won, Division 4, was 6 months before I was even born.
RK: Score prediction for both legs?
JC: I’ve just rewatched our 6-0 win over Spurs from 1993, and suddenly have a ridiculous sense of optimism. So 1-1 (Walker, Walker), followed by 0-0.
JC: Spurs then. What’s happening at the other Lane? Has Poch matched expectations, or is he another AVB in the making?
RK: Interesting question. Every fan will have a different expectation. He’s matched and exceeded mine. My personal morale was quite low when he took over, same old Spurs, it may be again. But at least with integrating young players and also getting the players incredibly fit he’s got them winning games. We haven’t played well too often, but we’ve been functional and the key is that we’ve improved over the season. Much like AVB I don’t think this is Poch’s team yet, which is probably why he tried to play slightly differently when he first came in. I think he knows his best team for this season, unfortunately two players who carry his duties out perfectly are both out (Bentaleb AFCON and Mason injured). There’s hope. I think we’re doing better than we necessarily should to be so close to 4th.
JC: You’re 6th in the league. Is winning the League Cup essential to this season being a success?
RK: Winning cups is surely what the game is about. 4th is fine but it’s quickly forgotten, being out of the CL has meant we have lost Gareth Bale and Modric, but I’m not sure if they’d have stayed anyway. Winning cups and going to Wembley is important. For both the fans but also for belief. It’s why Mourinho always tries to win a cup as soon as possible at a new club. Players are almost all confidence people, winning helps that.
JC: Spurs seem to have dropped a lot of points at home against poorer teams, and then put in that crazy 5-3 win over Chelsea. What’s been the problem?
RK: We’ve actually done okay against those sides away. We have one of the best records away from home in the League. At home, the atmosphere can be a bit different against smaller teams. We need to be pressing and moving the ball quicker, finding space and that sometimes means a team that attacks us is at their most dangerous. That said, our run recently has been decent, Palace apart.
JC: When the draw was announced, there was a big cheer in the Spurs dressing room. Have you booked your hotel for Wembley yet?
RK: Footballers are funny things. I am sure that every time a big club gets a smaller club in a latter cup draw the more established players cheer. It’s natural, we should win this game, we should get to Wembley but that doesn’t mean we will. It’s tricky, football is a fascinating drama. Which for all it’s faults, makes it the best sport in the world.
JC: Who in the Sheffield United team are you worried of? Also, can you name a United player?
RK: I can indeed. The boy from Everton Baxter is someone I remember seeing mentioned when I lived in Liverpool or that may be on Football Manager. I’m unsure. Maguire has since left. I remember a small speedy winger, Flynn who looked fit when I saw your boys play against Leyton Orient a year ago. Be interested to see if the boy Louis Reed plays, I hear he’s got some potential.
JC: Wouldn’t you just rather give up on this dreadful League Cup distraction so you can concentrate on securing a Champions League place?
RK: Ha. Sure. Why not? I think winning cups is key, plus we’ll probably finish 5th.
JC: Does Harry Kane have what it takes to get the better of Jay McEveley?
RK: Harry Kane has been a revelation. I am surprised for sure, I remember watching him pretty much all season 2 years ago in the U-21’s. He had some loans but would play here and there, he was great on the ball, but not as fit or strong as he is now. His finishing was good. My problem was could he actually find the space, strength or guile to get a chance to finish? The answer is now yes. But I was worried. I still am, if he’ll continue it. But one thing is for sure, he wants to be a player and that is a great sign. Even if the goals dry up, he’ll put Poch’s plan to play. Which is what you need. Jay McEveley – another Football Manager stalwart plying in the lower leagues. Fingers crossed.
JC: Score prediction – how much do you think you’ll win by in both legs?
RK: I really have no idea. It’s going to be tricky, this is Spurs we’re talking about. To be honest unless we win by 5 clear goals at home I won’t be convinced we’ll win away. But that’s the Spurs mentality. I think we’ll win 2-0 at home and maybe draw 1-1 away, or nick it 2-1 away. Either way it’s going to be tight….