I don’t fancy the idea of playing Sagna out of position, as it thrusts the callow Carl Jenkinson in, and that arguably exposes us on both flanks. Instead, I’d prefer that we keep Sagna at his preferred position, which then returns to the original question of whom to play on the left. Assuming Kos is fit enough to start, then, we have two options, Flamini and Vermaelen. If he ain’t, Vermaelen has to play CB and Flamini’s left-back, and the rest of what you’re about to read is pure, unadulterated dross. If that’s how you like your dross, by all means, read on.
For the first, I’d prefer that Flamini play at DM in order to maintain some semblance of order and tenacity. Playing Flamini on the left side, however tempting, takes him away from the center of pitch, diminishing his barking ability while pitting him more directly against the pace of Arjen Robben, and let’s face it, Flamini ain’t fleet of foot (hope you like alliteration). Instead, then, it is time to summon the center-back of annoying nick-names, TV5, the Verminator…uh, Tom TeaVee (I think). I bring you Thomas “Tom” Vermaelen. On one hand, he was the left-back during the 1-3 dressing-down we endured last season. On the other, he wasn’t the left-back in the 0-2 disrobing, so maybe it all evens out.
At any rate, Vermaelen might then be our best option. Despite his drop in form and his positional freelancing, we need a strong performance from him, and not just because Robben will be marauding along the left side. It’s not just him, of course, as Kroos and Lahm will likely drift towards our left to exploit whoever’s there; whether it’s Flamini, Sagna, or Vermaelen, that man is playing an unfamiliar position and is likeliest to be targeted.
Of course, defending is not one man’s job, and just as vital as who plays left back is who plays on the left wing. Podolski might offer an interesting option going forward, but we simply can’t afford to play him above Vermaelen because of how much Poldi neglects his defensive responsibilities. Even if we’re playing the defensively minded Arteta-Flamini pivot, we can’t afford to expose Vermaelen to too many one-on-one situations. Robben, for one, is simply too much of a threat to (a) blow past him or (b) go flying through the air and tumble about 37 yards in agony if Vermaelen such as exhales too loudly.
It’s the kind of situation that might normally inspire dread. Veramaelen, the out-of-form, out-of-position defender, going up against a pacey winger with a nose for goal. Normally, it sounds like a recipe for disaster. However, given that the stakes at our end are so low—no one seems to rate our chances very high in this match or in the Champions League is we do pull of the improbable—what can go wrong? If we lose, we can shrug our shoulders, and head back home. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. If, on the other hand, Vermaelen turns the world on its heads, shutting Robben down (and up, if you don’t mind the conflicting prepositions but matching meanings), so much the better. Heck, we lambaste Vermaelen for getting too high up the pitch as a center-back, but “too high” for a center-back might be “just right” for a left-back.
Then again, if we don’t quite like Vermaelen as a left-back, could we maybe consider converting him to a defensive midfielder?