It’s like we’re being prepared for the inevitable: slowly eased into a life without football and the spills from our Fantasy lineups. Okay, there’s the small matter of an FA Cup final but, without the sight of Norman Whiteside playing poker on the coach, helicopter arrivals and Question of Sport special, that lost it’s magic long ago.
We’re left with just the early kick-off at Villa Park– a scenario that could well turn sour on us, should Rafa deliver on his promise and shuffle his pack with wild abandon ahead of the midweek Europa League final.
We know Rafa loves a bit of silverware; he wants to depart his troubled tenure at the Bridge with another CV boosting trophy. Ultimately, that will surely influence his teamsheet for the clash with a Villa side that look to have almost casually eased their way out of the relegation quicksand in recent weeks. With a point likely to satisfy both managers, today’s match could be short on fireworks, big on disappointment.
This morning’s press are torn on the Benitez teamsheet. While we’re largely resigned to the fact that Eden Hazard will be rested following his recent calf injury, Juan Mata is our main concern heading into the morning deadline. The Spaniard figures in the majority of this morning’s predicted lineups: only The Times omit the playmaker from their teamsheet, prompting starts for both Yossi Benayoun and Oscar.
While we’re far from confident, Mata was handed a rest in the second leg of the semi-final with Basel and Benitez may consider that enough for his compatriot to come through today’s clash and remain fresh the Benfica meeting. The risk of injury is, of course, the prime concern but, from a Fantasy perspective, if you hold Mata, you surely start him and let the auto subs do the rest.
That’s easier said than done when you consider that we’ve also had the Michu injury to contend with. Having consigned him to the beach for the rest of the season, a Friday twist saw Michael Laudrup declare that his leading scorer could yet make Sunday’s Old Trafford trip…
“Michu was in training yesterday. We will have to see because I don’t want to force anything but everyone wants to play at old Trafford. I will talk to him and Chico and see how they are. I thought a hamstring injury would be that for the season, but it has not torn and it has gone well so he is a possibility. If not, then for the last game against Fulham.”
Four of this morning’s papers go with Michu in their lineups and we’ve followed suit, convinced that, if there’s a chance for Laudrup to reward Michu with a start on such an occasion, he’ll take it. Whether he’ll profit against a United side surely determined to see off Sir Alex with a routine win is another matter. It would almost be impolite for Michu to score on Sunday.
As for United, it appears that Sunday calls for strength and the “old guard”. The press boys are tipping both Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs to be handed invites to the party, while Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand are paired in defence. Robin Van Persie starts in every lineup, of course, while Wayne Rooney is handed a bench role by The Sun, The Guardian and The Mail. That would be the latest and greatest insult in a tumultuous season.
On the other side of Manchester, the City lineup for the midweek trip to Reading is pure guesswork. We find no guidance from the press who turn attentions to today’s final with Wigan. The overwhelming opinion is that both Carlos Tevez and Sergio Aguero will be thrown in against the Latics, leaving Scout Pick Edin Dzeko seemingly primed to face the Royals on Tuesday. Aside from that, we expect the usual shuffle at the back with the entire Wembley rearguard at risk and names like Micah Richards, Joleon Lescott and dear old Aleks Kolarov back in the frame.
Personally I could without such curveballs. While I don’t wish the season to end, these final two Gameweeks look problematic and, as Dave Gahan would say, “can only do harm”.
Content with my lot, I’d be happy to “stick” pick up my ball and head home. Instead, I’ve this horrible feeling that this Gameweek, coupled with the unpredictable climax on Sunday week, has me nervously perched at the top of a greasy poll. I’m not sure how far I’ll drop but, with under an hour to go, I’m a little uncertain how I’m going to cushion the fall. I can’t see Kolarov catching me.