I suspect today is going to an odd one. Not because the forecast is sun, but because with the Champions League Second Leg looming, and only a point needed from three games to secure fourth place, it’s inevitable that Rafa will field a weakened side at Birmingham today.
It’s unfortunate that Birmingham are right in the thick of the relegation struggle so if we were to lose or draw, the brickbats might start to fly, or is it swing, in our direction? Almost exatly a year ago I thought it was wrong for us to field the weakened sides we did against Fulham and Portsmouth. Then third place was still up for grabs, however this season that’s probably gone and now our second string side is a lot stronger than it was twelve months ago. Birmingham’s rivals at the foot of the Premiership table cannot expect us to jeopardise our agenda in the hope that we will bale them out.
Hopefully we will win and Rafa will be spared the criticism in what’s been an eventful week for him. I’ve no complaints about his team selection on Tuesday and his comments about the referee were symptomatic of his disappointment rather anything serious. However, what was impressive was that while others fight and squabble, and generally jockey for position, Rafa has played a very straight bat. Of the trouble he sensibly said.
“I have not spoken to them (the owners) about the ongoing situation, only how to improve and how to progress. We need to work together, and he (Hicks) agreed with me that we must talk together. Everything is positive. George (Gillett) knows about what was said, everybody knows. Everyone has the same information, Rick Parry will be working, too, and if everyone works hard and we work together, it will be easier.”
I believe Rafa is on a “win, win” situation (I hate that phrase). Should one of the warring factions take control they would be foolish to alienate Rafa who has the support of the fans. Equally if Rafa decided to go, or is made to go, he can leave with his reputation in tact and easily walk into another top post, one of the big two Spanish clubs being obvious candidates.
Equally commendable was the reaction of the crowd on Tuesday night to Tom Hicks. Although there were a few isolated insults, surely Hicks must have been taken aback at the lack of reaction to his presence? Of course there is a risk that he might, incorrectly, see this as tacit acceptance, but perhaps he would be best advised to view it as a message that, when it comes to the team and matters on the field, everything and every one is irrelevant. I look forward to him moderating his tone just as the crowd did on Tuesday?
So to today’s game. As mentioned before I guess it’s a question of just how many changes Rafa will make. It has been suggested that the likes of Pennant, Martin, Itandje, Plessis and Insua could feature? Who knows but I suspect we won’t see Torres or Gerrard and of course Aurelio who is out for the season. There is a theory that it might be better for Birmingham to play a stronger side as these fringe players, weary of the forthcoming transfer window, will be out to make an impression, be it on their manager or potential new employers?
Prediction, we need to be careful with Birmingham. They will be up for it as they need the points and will be smarting after their heavy 5-1 defeat to Villa last Sunday. However, over the ninety minutes we should prove too strong, 2-1 to us!
Enjoy the sun and your Saturday!