Team News: Wolverhampton Wanderers
By Kevin Affleck
Javi Gracia will have three extra players to choose from for the crunch clash with Wolverhampton Wanderers after José Holebas, Tom Cleverley and Adalberto Peñaranda were declared fit.
Holebas has not featured since picking up a hamstring injury in extra-time of the memorable semi-final win at Wembley, resulting in Adam Masina playing the last three matches. Cleverley has been out with a calf problem since a brief cameo against Crystal Palace in the quarter-final while Peñaranda has been out for several weeks. The Venezuelan international has not been in a squad since the FA Cup win at QPR in the middle of February.
But they all returned to training in the middle of this week, providing Gracia with an increased number of options as the season heads towards the business end of the season.
“All these players are in different situations because they have some injuries,” said the Head Coach. “We’ll see what we decide for the next game. What is important is that all of them are training with the team now. It’s good to have more options for the most important moment of the season as we are going to play three games in the league and a final as well. To have the chance to choose all the squad is good for the team.”
Gracia is particularly pleased to have Cleverley available again. He picked the 13-cap England international midfielder in his first league game and then had to wait 11 months to do so again. He’s only managed to hand him three league starts since due to the form of Étienne Capoue and Abdoulaye Doucouré, but he the Head Coach loves to have a player of Cleverley's experience, nous and ability in his squad.
“Tom is a player that can play in different positions, always with a good character, and with spirit,” he said. “I like that.”
Gracia has a few selection calls to make. He has a decision to make at right-back, which of the four centre-halves to play in the heart of the defence, if Holebas is fit enough to displace the improved Masina and who should start up front. The decision at centre-half is an interesting one as he replaced Craig Cathcart at half-time, threw on Kiko Femenía and played with a back three on Tuesday night.
“Craig was not injured, it was a tactical decision,” said Gracia. “I tried to change the game by taking some risks. We were only going to leave one at the back with many one-v-one situations and I wanted that to be Kaba. If we were going to play that way, I wanted a player less tired than Craig. I think it was a good decision as Kaba defended really well, we were able to play high and we got a point starting from good defensive actions. It was the right decision as I know Craig has played more minutes for me than anyone.”
Gracia is never one to reveal his hand in the pre-match press conference and he was particularly coy over what he may do up front when asked if he may need a physical presence in attack up against Willy Boly and Conor Coady.
“We have played against them with different players both times,” said Gracia. “The first one we had Isaac and Gerard, the second one with Troy and Andre Gray. We’ll see what happens in the third one.”