Should Redknapp reinstate Palacios at Spurs?
HARRY Redknapp faces a tricky team selection this week – and a relatively enjoyable one for a change – as he ponders his starting XI at Old Trafford. Wilson Palacios is eligible to return on Saturday, and Spurs fans will expect the returning...
By Ben Pearce
HARRY Redknapp faces a tricky team selection this week - and a relatively enjoyable one for a change - as he ponders his starting XI at Old Trafford.
Wilson Palacios is eligible to return on Saturday, and Spurs fans will expect the returning 25-year-old to be among the first names on the team sheet.
After all, the combative Honduran midfielder was effectively bought for such occasions - to shackle the league's top midfielders and protect the back four in the most challenging and hostile arenas.
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And yet, Redknapp may well consider a radical move - leaving a fully fit Palacios on the bench. Sitting in his Spurs Lodge office this week, the manager has three choices:
Option A: Leave Palacios out and stick with the team that beat Arsenal and Chelsea. Redknapp is a pragmatic boss and, whether by luck or by judgment, if he finds a winning formula he tends to stick with it.
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Luka Modric and Tom Huddlestone have excelled as a central midfield partnership in their last two games, and Palacios' absence went unnoticed as the pair hassled, harried and played their way around two of the best midfields in Europe.
Meanwhile Gareth Bale, who scored against Arsenal and Chelsea from left midfield, is likely to be up against 35-year-old Gary Neville this time...
Option B: Bring Palacios back into the standard 4-4-2 system. This would reinstate Redknapp's first-choice midfield - with the exception of the injured Aaron Lennon, of course.
Palacios partners Huddlestone in the centre and Modric moves back to the left, roaming inside and creating space for the overlapping Bale, who replaces Benoit Assou-Ekotto at left-back.
That is all well and good, and Bale has proved that he can carry a consistent threat down the flank from full-back. However, given that his potential match-up with Neville gives Tottenham their best chance of hurting United, withdrawing him to left-back could limit his effectiveness.
The Welsh wizard would have to keep an eye on Antonio Valencia or Nani, who are both capable of causing carnage if United break and Bale is caught upfield.
Spurs would arguably be more dangerous if Bale is freed of such concerns, and allowed to concentrate on giving Neville a game to remember - for all the wrong reasons.
Option C: Spurs try a new system, incorporating Palacios, Huddlestone and Modric in the centre.
Bale stays on the left wing ahead of Assou-Ekotto in a system which mirrors United's - 4-5-1 becomes 4-3-3 when Spurs are in possession.
This is not unlikely. Redknapp has said on a couple of occasions that he would like to "thicken things up" and pack the midfield away from home - especially against the Big Four. Matching United's formation would ensure that Spurs are not outnumbered in midfield.
However, the Tottenham boss deployed five in midfield at the Emirates in October, with Peter Crouch as a loan striker, and lost 3-0. And, when he mirrored Chelsea's midfield diamond at Stamford Bridge in September, Spurs lost 3-0 again.
Fresh tactics have not produced results this season, and a more conservative approach has not frustrated the opposition.
Meanwhile, Redknapp will certainly be loathe to lose a striker, handicapping a Spurs side which beat Arsenal and Chelsea with a positive, aggressive approach, and is brimming with confidence. Choices, choices. The decision, Harry, is yours...