Aston Villa vs. Tottenham Hotspur.
Ever since Villa suffered a total humiliation at the hands of Chelsea, I've been trying to decide whether that was a blessing or a curse for Tottenham.
My heart hopes and prays that Villa's young players will be crushed from the mauling at Stamford Bridge and Paul Lambert won't have had the time to do anything radical on the training pitch to in players minds, however, I do wonder if a a hefty kick up a few backsides will force a history tells us that young players and teams have a habit of being brilliant one game and absolutely useless the next.
Also playing at home might well be a problem in terms of tactics for Lambert, who may feel that playing safe and looking to regain some confidence and composure, might prove all the harder by a home support that will have been equally bruised by Sundays loss and will want to see their team come out fighting in response as opposed to looking to be cautious and keep things tight. No home fan wants to see his team sit back and play in a manner that seems negative and Spurs are perhaps not a team to be facing so soon after their own frustrations of dropping two points at home to Stoke.
Equally, can Villa seriously look to take the game to Spurs and potentially be ripped apart on the counter by the likes of Lennon and Bale? This really is a huge test of Paul Lambert's managerial qualities. Perhaps Villa fans might look for crumbs of comfort in last seasons heavy defeats of Norwich and the regenerative powers of Lambert, but in all their big defeats last season, defeat followed the next game and with so many young players at Villa, can you expect too many big characters, but do they have that 'bouncebackability' of players that defy their age? I am not sure.
Perhaps in part by his own making or at least that of a board anxious to cut costs, Lambert hasn't too many experienced options to call upon to add wisdom and organisation. Bent and Dunne are both definitely out, whilst Agbonlahor, N'Zogbia and Vlaar are all very doubtful, so it could well be that Lambert has no other option but to play pretty much the same team as he put out on Sunday. It did cross my mind that he got things wrong tactically in playing a 3-5-2/5-3-2 formation, whether that assisted in Villa's inability to take the game to Chelsea or that they were simply over-run, it is always up for debate.
Chelsea to their credit were superb, but their opposition was shockingly open and naive, with little ability to make vital on pitch adjustments and perhaps we can again look to the fragility of those on the bench such as Stephen Ireland, who were obviously deemed to be incapable of offering anything to the youngsters. If Villa and the fans keep their heads and back this young but promising side, they may well reap the benefits, but you feel there could be quite a bit of pain in the short to medium term and in this time will the struggles take its toll on the players who need guidance in their time of development.
As for Spurs, Clint Dempsey doesn't appear ready for today, however he is believed to be near enough to fitness to be available for Sunderland at the weekend. Scott Parker and Benoit Assou-Ekotto are both in the squad, though whether either will start is up for debate. Certainly in the case of BAE, the fact he hasn't kicked a competitive ball since the 1st of September, surely makes him a big question mark, however he has always appeared to be naturally athletic and capable of playing every game and may well be seen as being ready to play. With Jan Vertonghen voicing his desire to play in the centre, you wonder if it will be a pick between BAE and Naughton wherever possible from now on. It did cross my mind that certainly the right footed Naughton would be perfect to have the left footed, right winger of Adam Johnson at the weekend, so will he play today and the weekend, with Jan in the middle, perhaps alongside Gallas or Caulker?
Other than the left back/centre back position, I feel that we will probably stick quite close to the team we have in recent games, however, with a busy Christmas period, will this game be an ideal one to rest Sandro (for Parker) and play Sigurdsson behind Adebayor, and then use Defoe and Dempsey at Sunderland? Gallas and Caulker also seem good rotational options and perhaps who is seen as being a better foil for either Benteke or Fletcher, might get the nod. For me, I would be very happy to see a starting line up of Lloris, Walker, Caulker, Vertonghen, BAE/Naughton; Parker, Dembele; Lennon, Sigurdsson, Bale and Adebayor and that offers sensible rotation, whilst also offering a team which I believe will be far too strong for what I believe and hope will be a Villa side in turmoil, for one more game at the very least...