Alan Smith column: Why a rest against Arsenal will give Timo Werner cup final optimism

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·5-min read
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 (POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
(POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

I remember the team sheet being pinned up and seeing my name — normally good news for any footballer. But this was four days before Arsenal’s FA Cup Final against Sheffield Wednesday in 1993. Picked to face Tottenham, I knew straight away I wouldn’t be playing at Wembley.

I thought of that moment while commentating on Chelsea’s shock defeat to the Gunners on Wednesday. The camera cut to Timo Werner sitting in the stand. Demoted to the subs’ bench, the striker must have known he now stood a great chance of facing Leicester in tomorrow’s Wembley showpiece.

Likewise, Kai Havertz probably suspected he wasn’t going to make it, especially as his inclusion didn’t pay off. Unlike the home game against Fulham, when Havertz grabbed a couple of goals to persuade Thomas Tuchel to play him against Real Madrid, the young German didn’t do enough against Arsenal to catch the manager’s eye.

Though it isn’t easy second-guessing Tuchel, I would be very surprised if Werner doesn’t get the nod. Sometimes, you become a better player without kicking a ball. Werner’s runs had been missed against Arsenal. Nobody could get behind the visitors’ deep-lying defence.

Getty Images
Getty Images

Leicester have been a bit susceptible to that lately. Their home game against Newcastle, for instance, saw Callum Wilson cause all sorts of trouble with well-timed sprints. Caglar Soyuncu, in particular, just couldn’t cope, getting caught in awkward positions high up the pitch.

The Foxes, after all, do like to push up in order to squeeze the opposition. While I can’t imagine that changing, manager Brendan Rodgers will have made plans for the threat of Werner, who naturally drifts to the left side.

That creates an interesting duel with Wesley Fofana, an outstanding young defender with plenty of pace. My old team could also do with Jonny Evans returning from injury to organise the tactics for Werner’s containment.

The German striker hasn’t been short of critics in his first season at Chelsea. He’s missed a lot of chances and got caught offside too easily. When pressed recently on the subject, Tuchel admitted that his countryman needed to “take a bit more care with his starting position”.

Werner is so swift he doesn’t need to go early. He can give most defenders a yard and still get there first. To be honest, it’s a surprising fault for a 25-year-old with 38 caps for Germany. You would have expected him to have ironed out that crease by now.

Nevertheless, I’m a big fan of the lad. He’s as honest as they come, a real trier every time.

And, unlike me in 1993, he got a rest on Wednesday to set him up for Wembley.

Southampton vs Fulham (3pm, Saturday)

With relegation confirmed, Fulham could well do without the final three games of the season. I don’t suppose Scott Parker can muster much enthusiasm, either. For him, it’s all about planning for another gruelling campaign in the Championship. Parker has a lot on his plate, so knowing Fulham’s fate now gives him a little extra time to get things done.

An obvious place to start is the loan situation. Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Joachim Andersen, Ademola Lookman, Ola Aina, Mario Lemina, Josh Maja: they all played big parts this season. So, who will stay and who will go? It looks like Parker will have to build a whole new team.

PA
PA

Brighton vs West Ham (8pm, Saturday)

Brighton away, West Brom away and Southampton at home. That’s not a bad finish for West Ham and gives them a chance of ending with a flourish while keeping those above honest in their bid for top-four spots. David Moyes will want better than the limp display at Everton. The Hammers lacked punch, while injuries to Manuel Lanzini and Aaron Cresswell disrupted their rhythm.

Talking of injuries, the ones to Declan Rice and Mark Noble have severely weakened central midfield. Tomas Soucek can’t get forward as much now. Even so, this game against a side safe from relegation offers encouragement.

Crystal Palace vs Aston Villa (12pm, Sunday)

All sorts of names are being mentioned as potential replacements for Roy Hodgson. I’m not sure how he would react to that. We don’t know, after all, whether Hodgson is staying, even though all the signs point to a change.

Frank Lampard is the latest to be linked, but that doesn’t look like a good fit. A massive overhaul awaits at Selhurst Park, where 17 players are out of contract next month. Palace face a massive rebuilding job, a task that would stretch the most experienced of managers. Lampard clearly isn’t that, while the goals against column during his time at Stamford Bridge proved he still has a lot to learn at the top level.

Tottenham vs Wolves (2:05pm, Sunday)

In beating Tottenham 3-1 last week, Leeds gave a footballing lesson to players much more experienced. If that was worrying, the fact Tottenham have yet to choose a new manager creates other problems. It’s difficult to properly plan for next season in terms of transfer targets and players moving on, as the new boss will want to have a say.

At the end of a season, names become available that weren’t two weeks before, so it would be foolish to jump the gun. In the meantime, a bit more effort in the remaining games would go a long way.

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