Reading Quique Sanchez Flores and trying to pick his XI is like trying to get Laurence Bassini to attend a fans’ forum – ultimately futile.
Who, for example, saw Miguel Britos playing ahead of Sebastian Prodl at Stoke City, after Prodl and Cathcart had started the first nine in the league? No-one who hadn’t been at the Christmas sherry saw Jose Holebas coming in for the ineligible Nathan Ake at Stamford Bridge on Boxing Day. And what about when Sanchez Flores picked Adlene Guedioura at the Emirates for the quarter-final tie when you least expected it and then didn’t when you expected him to against Stoke City?
The Spaniard has been a bit more consistent in his last two matches and we think we’ve seen a glimpse of how his team is shaping up for Sunday’s semi-final. (Note: this is what we see Sanchez Flores doing – not what we’d do.) No doubt he’ll pull a rabbit out of the hat, but here goes…
He can’t leave him out of a game an FA Cup game at Wembley like Roberto Mancini did, can he? We don’t think so, despite the clamour for the Player of the Season-elect to play. It would make Pantilimon seriously question why he chose Watford over Monaco in January if he were named on the bench. We’ll know for sure who will start at Wembley when the team is announced for the game at Upton Park.
A right-back is high on the shopping list this summer but, in the meantime, it’s a toss of a coin over who plays at right-back for Watford. We think Nyom will get the nod over Juan Carlos Paredes, mainly for his one-v-one defending and athleticism against Palace’s powerful and fleet-footed forwards. He needs to play as he did in the last round against Arsenal – and not how he did in the two league games against the Eagles – to justify the decision.
He’s missed three of the last seven through injury but he will play if he’s fully fit. No question. You leave him out at your peril. Southampton away showed that. Watford need him, and need him to produce a repeat of one of the individual performances of the season in the last round.
The Uruguayan has dipped below his high standards in recent weeks to such an extent that there is a slight doubt over whether he gets the nod. But he’s a big-game player and been a rock for the most part, and we can’t see Sanchez Flores leaving him out in favour of Sebastian Prodl, although the Austrian was excellent in the last round.
Yes, we hear the cries for Jose Holebas but Sanchez Flores has played Ake in all the big games and will opt for the better defensive qualities of the on-loan Chelsea man at Wembley. Let’s not forget that Holebas did not even travel with the squad for the last round.
The right-hand side of midfield is the biggest area for debate, in our book. It was hard to see Guedioura even travelling to a potential semi-final a few months ago but his energy and effervescent wide play in recent weeks has offset the slowing down of others and should give him the nod on the right, especially as it’s all hands to the pump to help out Nyom at right-back. Guedioura was deployed on the right in the last round to snuff out the threat of Alexis Sanchez and we see him doing a similar job here. The fact he popped up with a blockbuster of a second goal was an added bonus. He’ll be pumped facing Alan Pardew, who made him train with the under-21s.
Second name on the teamsheet, behind Deeney. The way his season has gone, you wouldn’t put it past him to conjure a repeat of his 2013 Wembley heroics. The script is certainly written for him against his first club. He will be vital at the base of midfield where Yohan Cabaye will need to be shackled.
We’d play Valon Behrami on Sunday and drop Capoue but the head coach has only not started the Frenchman three times this season – and those were against Preston and in the first two rounds of the FA Cup. He’ll need to roll his sleeves up and show exactly why Watford broke their club record to sign him in the summer and why he should be playing centrally. If you are going to play Capoue then we’d favour playing the midfield who played in the last round against Arsenal, where Capoue was tucked in on the left, but that experiment looks to have been shelved.
The spot on the left is another area for debate. It’s a bit of a toss up between Behrami and Jose Manuel Jurado. It’s hard to see Sanchez Flores not fielding Jurado, his favourite son, but we’re mindful of how Sanchez Flores likes to stop the opposition so, to start with, we think he’ll ask Behrami to play tucked in on the left and help screen Ake. We feel you need the bite and big-game temperament of the Switzerland international on an occasion like Sunday. He was magnificent at Arsenal.
No doubt about his spot and Palace will have plans to stop him after he scored twice against them in February. Fancy him to score from the spot.
You daren’t leave him out, especially in a game of this magnitude, but he needs to pull his socks up and show why there has been such interest in him. His dip in form is either due to him believing his own press, a lack of service or perhaps both. Sunday is a time to show a worldwide audience how good he is.
Just to recap, here’s our team in formation order: