The day has finally arrived. Tottenham travel across London to Wembley today to take on Chelsea in the FA Cup semifinal.
With disappointment in Europe and the top of the Premier League still just out of reach, the FA Cup represents the best chance Tottenham have to win silverware this season.
Mauricio Pochettino — and everyone else at the club — is taking that possibility very seriously. He’s named a full flight of regular starters for the encounter, and done so with an interesting twist.
With players returning to fitness and at least three on genuine hot streaks, Pochettino encountered that rare dilemma: too many options.
At first glance this might not seem that unusual. All the component parts are there. Harry Kane, Dele Alli. Toby Alderweireld, Jan Vertonghen. Hey, even Heung-min Son and Victor Wanyama managed to fit into the side. But, wait, where’s Ben Davies and Kyle Walker?
Though Danny Rose would usually start if fit, since his injury Davies and Walker have ably patrolled Tottenham’s flanks. They did so as both conventional full-backs and wing-backs.
Both players sit on the bench today, however. Kieran Trippier, who has served as Walker’s understudy for two years now, starts, though he lacks a counterpart on the left flank.
Two things could be happening here.
One, Jan Vertonghen will slot in at left-back in a 4-2-3-1. That isn’t preferable, but it could be a reflection of the additional flank support needed for Wembley’s wider pitch. It also allows Pochettino to name four attackers, thereby keeping with the trend of recent weeks.
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Two — and much more intriguingly — we could be seeing a particularly aggressive take on the 3-4-2-1 formation that Tottenham beat Chelsea with in January.
All the parts are there except, of course, for a proper left wing-back. Which brings us to Son.
The South Korean is in phenomenal form, and must start. To use him appropriately though Pochettino needs to utilize the 4-2-3-1, thereby allowing Son space on the wing to work his magic. No such position exists within the 3-4-2-1, not to mention it would mean dropping one of Dele or Christian Eriksen.
So, could it be then that Son will line up at wing-back? We speculated about this possibility before. He has the defensive chops to track back, and would thrive in the additional space afforded to him.
One of the biggest advantages Spurs had over Chelsea in January was just how often and how effectively Walker and Rose exploited the flanks. With Chelsea’s own wing-backs so attack-minded, they found plenty of room to work in behind.
Could Pochettino be hoping that Son and Trippier could produce the same effect? It’s not impossible.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the pitch, there is perhaps even bigger news.
Eden Hazard does not start for Chelsea, and neither does Diego Costa. Perhaps this is a tactical choice from Antonio Conte, perhaps this is some lingering result of the illness that struck the squad last weekend. Both players remain threats from the bench however.
Add to that the fact that Gary Cahill remains injured, and Spurs might favor their chances. This looks like a beatable Chelsea side, frankly, and Pochettino’s potentially adventurous tactics might pay off.
Stay tuned to HotspurHQ for match reports and analysis following the final whistle.