All that said, the class of Son and Kane remains the factor most likely to decide this match, and though they probably expected to be up against a three centre-backs, they’re probably looking forward to bullying two. Wolves don’t have a particular antidote to that, because they’ve only two central midfielders and neither is into that kid of thing, but if Spurs allow them the majority of the possession, they might be able to keep the ball closer to the other end.
I’m looking forward to seeing how Podence does today. He looks a really good player, full of confidence, attitude and bustle, and I think Spurs’ three centre-backs might find him hard to find. Similarly, I’m excited to see Adama Traore have a go at Sergio Reguilon, who might be able to match him for pace but will have to come up with something when they’re involved in a physical tussle.
I’d love to know what Mourinho thinks Spurs can do this season, and how he thinks he can bring it about. He’ll fancy himself to nab the League Cup – if he can, that’ll satisfy most of Spurs’ support – but for a whole it looked lie he thought the title was in play too. And it is, but surely not to a team who sit back in every game, thereby inviting pressure onto a sketchy defence.
This should be a more entertaining match than I feared. With that XI, Wolves have little choice but to push the pace, and Traore and Podence in particular have the chops to find space between wing-backs and centre-backs. Spurs will still be stodgy, but hopefully we’ll get a clash of styles, which will make for something enjoyable.
At Anfield, West Brom snatched a late equaliser against Liverpool. Rob Smyth has all the reaction.
As for Spurs, they move to a back five – perhaps Mourinho wanted to match up with Wolves, then back his better players. So he brings in Sanchez, with Alderweireld dropping to the bench, and Davies; outside them, Aurier is punished for his Leicester misbehaviour and replaced by Doherty, returning to his former club. Otherwise, Sissoko drops out of a midfield that’ll be missing Lo Celso for the entirety of holiday period, with Winks coming in, which is to say there’s not loads in the way of creativity here. However, given Wolves’ line-up, there should be joy to be had on the counter.
So what does it all mean? Well, Wolves have been struggling with things recently, forcing Nuno to try things outside of his usual three at the back. But tonight, he’s got no choice because Willy Bly isn’t fit, so he goes for flat four, leaving out Kilman and bringing in Marcal for Ait-Nouri at left-back. This allows him to deploy an extra attacker, so as well as Traore replaing Otasowie, Silva also comes in to act as a focal point, which is to say that with a two-man midfield of Moutinho and Neves, Wolves are absolutely going for it.
Wolverhampton Wanderers (a quizzical 4-2-3-1): Patricio; Semedo, Coady, Saiss, Marcal; Neves, Moutinho; Traore, Podence, Neto; Silva. Subs: Ruddy, Hoever, Ait-Nouri, Vitinha, Perry, Cundle, Kilman, Otasowie, Corbeanu.
Tottenham Hotspur (a scroogalacious 5-3-2): Lloris; Doherty, Sanchez, Dier, Davies, Reguilon; Hojbjerg, Winks, Ndombele; Son, Kane. Subs: Hart, Alderweireld, Lamela, Rodon, Sissoko, Alli, Bergwijn, Aurier, Tangana.
Football is a sport of eternal questions, but with this particular fixture, one in particular stands out: will the ball leave the centre-circle? What’s bizarre about it all is that both sides have excellent attackers who are far better than their defenders, problem being both also have managers for whom risk is boardgame played by other people and joy a frivolity indulged by other people.
Given a three-year course of dealing, along with the injury to Raul Jimenez and the absence of serious pressure, we can’t expect Wolves to get after it today, but with Spurs there is hope. Most likely, that’ll incite José Mourinho to even greater acts of dourness, but he will surely suspect that his counter-attacking strategy is especially unsuitable against today’s opponents, and will absolutely know that his team badly need a win, which is to say that isn’t actually working that well.
Of course, he might just blame the players, but ultimately he’s a pragmatist not an idealist, and getting Harry Kane and Heung-min Son more involved in things is not all that much of a reach. Similarly, if ever there was a time to pick a second attacking midfielder to play with Tanguy Ndombele, this is it.
Yeah yeah, alright – who am I trying to kid? This could be devastatingly dire, but there’ll be so many good players on the pitch it might also be really good.
Kick-off: 7.15pm GMT