I’m looking forward to a host of FA Cup and Premier League games this weekend after what has been a tough week on the continent for English clubs.
We can’t be too harsh on Tottenham after their defeat to Dortmund in Germany. European competitions can be quite difficult and we have to accept that English clubs were top of the pile for a period but now that’s not the case in Europe anymore. You only have to see Chelsea’s and Arsenal’s progress in the Champions League to see the evidence of that.
Spurs came up against a very good Dortmund side and made a lot of changes. The manager obviously felt the Premier League was his best option this year so switched it around. But I think without an away goal to their name it’s going to be very difficult for Spurs to turn it around. Even if the manager picks his strongest 11 at home it’s a big ask. Dortmund are as good a side Spurs have played this season – they’re not far off Bayern Munich in the Bundesliga. They have a good energy about them, they’ve had a winter break of course and I think they’d go pretty close at winning the Premier League this season if they played over here.
Playing on the European stage is different to the nitty-gritty of the Premier League. It’s exciting too and can be a distraction from what’s going on at home at times. You test yourself against the very best – like when my Ipswich team played Inter Milan in the UEFA Cup in 2001. The home game was rocking and we won 1-0 thanks to an Armstrong header, but when we went to the San Siro, where 10,000 incredible supporters followed us, they were just too strong. Vieri got a hat-trick and after his third goal looked over to the bench as if to say ‘I’m done’ and they subbed him for the Brazilian Ronaldo – which isn’t a bad swap! That just goes to show the kind of quality you come up against on the European stage.
It will be interesting to see how Spurs get on in the return leg but if I was Pochettino I’d be telling my squad to remember where they are in the Premier League and not to get too downbeat about what happened in Dortmund. As for Arsenal against Barcelona next week, the tie looks almost done but there’s no way I’d send a second team to Spain. I’d send out the strongest 11 while there’s still a chance because if you get beat heavily the damage done to confidence could be very, very harsh.
Here’s my predictions for this weekend’s biggest games:
Arsenal v Watford (FA Cup)
With Arsenal eight points off the pace in the Premier League and the fact they have Barcelona in Champions League, where they look like they’ll go out, the FA Cup is their best chance of silverware this season. They have a good cup record over the past two seasons having win it twice on the bounce so I’d edge towards Arsenal to win here at home, but it’s going be tight because Watford are a good side that’s achieved their goal for the season – staying in the league. Even with Arsenal’s injury list and the fact they have a hectic schedule at the moment I can still see them going through.
Giroud and Walcott grabbed a couple of goals in mid-week against Hull which will give them some confidence, especially for Walcott who had a few fans on his back. Has Theo lived up to expectations in his Arsenal career? Well to be fair to him he’s been hampered by injuries but I think he’s got it wrong wanting to play up front. He’s a better a better wide player in my eyes and I think he’s not sure of the centre forward role really. When he’s out wide is can he make the run across in behind. It’s more natural coming wide for him than it is up front. I know he wants to play there but I don’t think its his best position watching him play. I like him as a player but there are too many games that hes on the periphery of.
West Ham v Manchester United (FA Cup)
At the moment the side that look more a team is West Ham. They had a sticky spell but that coincided with Payet being out the team. Even when it’s a quiet day he comes up with a moment of magic: a pass that opens a team up or a goal and piece of quality. He’s back now and makes a massive difference to the team, plus the Hammers have other players like Winston Reed and Tomkins back to the squad. Man United just look bereft of confidence at the moment. I think West Ham are good enough to get a draw at the very least and if they do take the tie back to Old Trafford there’s no reason why they can’t progress.
Everton v Chelsea (FA Cup)
This could be quite an intriguing game. It’ll be Interesting to see whether Diego Costa and Eden Hazard are fit and if they’re not, will their injury problems spur Everton on to grab a win? The pressure’s on Roberto Martinez to deliver silverware now because fans are restless. They’ve conceded too many goals this season when they’ve been ahead and just can’t shut up shop when winning games.. As I say the pressure is on them to win silverware so with Chelsea having one or two injury problems Everton could come out and win this.
Aston Villa v Spurs (Premier League)
Spurs made seven changes in the Europa League and will be ready and fresh to go to Villa and win. As for the Birmingham side, they’re doomed, aren’t they? They’re dead and buried and look down in the dumps. I just can’t see Spurs tripping up here. They let a few points slip against Arsenal last week but there’s hardly any chance in my eyes of them not taking all three points.
In terms of Villa and their chances getting back to the Premier League, I just wonder how much does Remi Garde know Championship football? I think relegation will hit them hard and when they have to play 46 games over a season instead of 38, playing Tuesday and Saturday, Tuesday and Saturday, the intensity of the league could take its toll.