Team News: Tranmere Rovers
By Kevin Affleck
Craig Shakespeare has confirmed the Watford team to face Tranmere Rovers in the third round of the FA Cup will be much changed as Nigel Pearson plans to use the competition as an opportunity to showcase the depth of his squad and rest some tired bodies after a punishing Christmas schedule.
The Hornets played four games in ten days, including more than 50 minutes with ten men, and the priority must be making sure key players are fully rested and fit ahead of a crucial Premier League game at Bournemouth a week on Sunday.
Pearson feels the cup provides an ideal opportunity for some peripheral players – ones he hasn't yet had a chance to assess in a game situation because of the hectic nature of the schedule – to show him what they are capable of and an opportunity for some of the players under the age of 23 to step up.
“With the amount of games we've had, some are running on empty,” said Shakespeare. “We need to rest some of them and make sure they are okay as some have got a few knocks and bruises. Four or five have got knocks and they are being assessed. It was a recovery day [on Thursday] and we need to see who can train fully. The starting XI [from New Year's Day] have been wrapped in cotton wool.”
The likes of Pontus Dahlberg, Dan Bachmann, Domingos Quina, Andre Gray, João Pedro, Tom Dele-Bashiru, Isaac Success, José Holebas, Joe Hungbo, Callum Whelan and Sam Dalby will all be eyeing some game-time.
“It gives others an opportunity, maybe one they haven't had so far, and we'll see if they take their chance,” said Shakespeare. “And I say that without underestimating the FA Cup or belittling it. It's a great, great competition, one we want to go as far in as we can. We aim to go through to the next round. We do hold the FA Cup in high esteem and we want to try and progress. It just gives players who have been a bit frustrated the chance to get some minutes under their belt.”
Adrian Mariappa is available again after suspension and he could be needed as the extent of the injury sustained by Kiko Femenía is not yet known. Tom Cleverley, Daryl Janmaat, Sebastian Prödl and Danny Welbeck are definitely out, although Welbeck is making good progress from a hamstring injury.
“He's [training] outside,” said Shakespeare. “He's more or less one to one [with a member of the strength and conditioning staff], not joining in with the full squad yet. We haven't got a [return] date [yet].”