It's been a frustratingly inconsistent start to the season, so what better way to continue the tide of oddities than having a game on Friday night? A United emerging from an early-season injury crisis now finds itself ready to play host to a Revs side still saddled with the walking wounded. So let's take a look at three key points, at least to my mind, when the teams meet this evening...
1. The Injury Factor, Part I
Yes, United are growing steadily healthier. There are only two names on the injury list, Janicki and Wicks, both of whom are listed as probable. That said, Quaranta, McTavish, and Fred are still all working their way back from injury and may not be ready for a full match. Similarly, Janicki may not be ready to pick up significant minutes either. Add to that the fact that Moreno, Olsen, and Gomez don't exactly inspire you to think they can go the full 90, and we've got more worries than the relatively clean bill of health would indicate.
The question then becomes, how many of these folks that may not be able to go 90 do you risk in the starting lineup? Do you go for broke and put out your strongest eleven, regardless of how long they might last, and hope for the best? Or do you play it safe and go with your fittest eleven? The first is bordering on suicidal, and the second shows no ambition. The best approach is probably somewhere in the middle--put out the strongest eleven that only includes 2-3 of those who might not be able to go 90.
2. The Injury Factor, Part II
As I noted above, we're actually in better shape than the Revs, who have three likely starters (Badilla, Twellers & Castro--not a law firm--out), two other starters (Reis & Larentowicz--also not a law firm--listed as questionalbe), and some rotation players (Dube, Alston & Thompson) either out or carrying minor flesh wounds. There are two upshots to these holes in their roster.
(1) With Badilla out, and assuming Reis and Larentowicz don't go from the start, that means that we have some defensive inexperience to prey upon. Similarly, Joseph's attacking impetus may be blunted without Larentowicz in the midfield. True, he'll still be a beast, but he may be more of a defensive monster than a two-way one.
(2) Nicol's boys are going to resort to thug-ball even more than they usually do. With some of their skill and possession on the pine or in the treatment room, we'll probably be served a hearty portion of physical and direct counter-attacking stuff. We'll need to both guard against their speed on the break and try to exploit their defensive aggression.
3. The Tactical Questions
Carrying forward, that leaves us with the question: 3-5-2 or 4-4-2? Frankly, the Revs flank pace and trickery scares me. That argues going to four at the back to guard against getting stretched. Likewise, they've got some speed up top, another cause for concern. Balanced against those defensive concerns has to be the fact that we need to put the Revs under pressure defensively. Flooding the midfield with five keeps the likes of Ralston from picking out the passes that will release the burners. Similarly, pushing Gomez into the gap between two forwards and the midfield keeps their central midfielders honest and defensive-minded, assuming that we find him more and that he can do some damage.
So where does that leave us? Probably still in the 3-5-2, though I'm a bit scared by what Nyassi might do to our left flank. As for those emerging from the treatment room and those without full-match fitness levels, I think we risk three at most from the start, with the others available to come off the bench. So how would I play it?
Burch still scares the hell out of me defensively, but he wasn't terrible last week, and I don't think you risk Janicki from the start. Wallace can help against Nyassi on that flank. Jacobson wasn't terrible last week either, but he doesn't have the combative edge that we're going to need to match steel with steel in midfield, hence Olsen. Fred is probably more fit than Quaranta and provides a dangerous flank option of our own. Pontius gets another chance to impress alongside Gomez and Emilio in attack and can slot in for Gomez or Fred if either start to fade, with Moreno coming off the pine.
So what's your take? Who are your danger-men for the Revs? What lineup would you run out against them? Confident that Tommy can make the changes if, and when, they're called for? Think the Revs are ripe for the picking? Anticipating any blood on the grass?