Team News: Woking
Watch Javi Gracia's pre-match press conference above, or read on below.
By Kevin Affleck
Javi Gracia looks set to use the depth of his talented squad on Sunday after admitting the FA Cup game with Woking provides an ideal chance to give some game time to some of his underused players.
The Head Coach has found it really difficult to leave internationals out of his Premier League matchday squad, but accepts that it comes with the territory when coaching a near fully-fit squad of players all with experience of playing in the top leagues in Europe.
Now he has the perfect opportunity to rest those who have played four demanding Premier League games in 11 days and select others who are chomping at the bit for some action. Only Sebastian Prödl, Christian Kabasele and Andre Gray are unavailable through injury while Marvin Zeegelaar and Stefano Okaka will also not be considered as Gracia confirmed they are in negotiations over loan moves to Udinese.
"The rest of the players are available," declared Gracia.
That means the likes of Nathaniel Chalobah, Daryl Janmaat, Marc Navarro, Miguel Britos, Ben Wilmot, Adalberto Peñaranda, Domingos Quina, Tom Cleverley, Heurelho Gomes and Pontus Dahlberg are all under consideration to start against Woking.
“I agree, it is a good chance to respect the competition and know it is an important game, but maybe it will be a good option to see players in the last four games that didn't play. Maybe they have the chance to play.”
Peñaranda will be desperate to play having seen his introduction to English football delayed by the application process for a work permit and then a foot problem.
“He's available and is improving,” said Gracia. “He is in a fit condition and I think he will be available. He is improving day by day and in this moment he is an option.”
Chalobah is also pushing to make his third start of the season and his first since the home game with Manchester City at the start of December.
“He is in a right moment, at the right level,” said Gracia, before going on to explain how difficult it is selecting his midfield two. “When you have to choose players in that position you have Cleverley, Quina, Capoue and Doucouré, but Chalobah is ready and is training very well and will be ready to play in the next game.”
Do not try and tell Gracia this would be a second-string team, though. He is treating this game with the utmost seriousness and does not feel the team would be weaker for the changes.
“The mentality is most important,” he said. “The players are ready. In all of the games we have played, the team has kept a very good level. It won't be any different. The players are ready and I'm sure they will be trying very hard.”
Okaka has never been anything other than wholehearted since he signed from Anderlecht in the summer of 2016 and Gracia wanted to give thanks to the seemingly outgoing forward.
“It's true, I know they are talking about that,” said Gracia. “I'm not sure if it is close or not but I would like to say Stefano - in all the time he has been with us - he has had an excellent attitude and excellent commitment. He is a top-class man. I wish him the best because he deserves it.”
The departure of Okaka would free up a spot in the club's 25-man squad submitted to the Premier League, but Gracia isn't overly anxious about filling it.
“I am happy with the players we have in this moment,” said Gracia. “I would like to keep all these important players. I think we are competing well in all the games we have played and now I prefer to be focused on preparing for the FA Cup and after that the Premier League game against Palace because it's the best way to achieve good things for us. In this moment, I don't know is what going to happen, but I would like to keep the players we have.”
Gracia is not one to scour social media or pore over newspapers to find out which of his players are in demand, but he knows Abdoulaye Doucouré is a player coveted by others.
“It is nothing new because in the windows last season we were talking about him,” said Gracia. “But I know the club, the owner wants to keep our important players. We'll see what happens as you never know but, in this moment, I am thinking Doucouré will be with us for the rest of the season.”