CARLING BRINGS SELECTION HEADACHE FOR AVRAM

By Jez Walters
Feb 6th, 2008

Poor old Avram. Having successfully steered a listing ship through two months of injuries and African Nations Cup absentees, he’s now confronted with the perfect storm – a full squad of internationals all expecting a first team berth. Nowhere is the problem more obvious than in the forthcoming Wembley Carling Cup Final against Spuds. Who’s he going to play?

The debate over what exactly comprises our best team is filling the CFCnet message boards daily. Here’s a typical discussion, this time over Shaun Wright Phillips.

Even within the Ivory Towers of CFCnet’s offices – Toby’s lounge, Peter’s bedroom, Grahame’s garage and Rob’s local Starbucks – there seems to be no real clarity about what is our best team and, in short, who should play in the Carling Cup Final.

The fact that we’ll have an almost full squad means we’ll see for the first time the type of team Avram Grant prefers. However, his decisions are made complicated by the fact that whoever he drops will create a stir and more headlines. Does he dare drop the German Captain? The African Player of the Year? The Ukrainian National Hero? England’s number 11? France’s Player of the Year? The list goes on.

The main problem area is in midfield. Grant’s probably not going to dare drop either Lampard, Ballack or Essien which means he can only play one winger if Drogba and Anelka are upfront. If he drops Anelka we could revert to a five man midfield with Essien, Ballack, Lampard, Cole and SWP with just Drogba upfront. Decisions, decisions….

Of the all the players mentioned, perhaps Ballack’s name is the most controversial with some Chelsea fans. Many people rate him highly in the Matthew Harding Upper, but equally some think he’s over-rated. However, in last year’s Carling Cup Final, Ballack’s pass to Drogba was world-class and opened our scoring. In a big game, there’s no one better in midfield both in terms of experience, work rate (look at his stats) and incisive passing. All things being equal, Ballack should get a Cup Final berth.

Teams like Spurs, who regularly flatter to deceive, have brittle confidence and their mind set is quickly crushed when they go a goal down. They are similar to the Chelsea of the early to mid-nineties, great on their day but just as liable to get a 4-0 drubbing. Players like Lennon and Jenas may be quick and skilful but how will they fare against battering rams like Essien, Lampard and Ballack? Does Berbatov have a winning mentality? Not really as anyone who saw him recently at the Bridge will testify – his shoulders dropped quicker than a tart’s draws.

Rather than play Spurs at their own game and have the Final slugged out between two teams of attacking wingers and a quick midfield, Grant will probably seek to crush the life force out of Spurs with a strong midfield, bristling with experience, and a deadly attack of Anelka and Drogba.

Perhaps the best team, therefore, is a mix between the terminator style of Jose mixed with a little more dynamism upfront. If that’s the case, expect the side to consist of Cech, Bridge, Terry, Carvalho, Belletti in defence; Essien, Ballack, Lampard in a midfield diamond with Joe Cole at the tip; Anelka and Drogba upfront. Subs: SWP and Malouda as impact substitutions, Alex, Cudicini and Mikel.

This is a superbly strong side but its weakness is lack of width and perhaps a little lack of pace in defence when up against Spurs’ fast counterattack. But can anyone see us lose with this side? Not really, yes we might, but I can’t see it.

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