No surprises from trainer Balin, who favours a rigid, traditional formation with three at the back and Thorin Oakenshield tasked with leading the line. There are high hopes that the young striker’s goals will return the team to their rightful place at the top of the table, a position they last held when his grandfather Thrór was captain.
Balin’s only concession to a more modern approach is a free role for the number 13 (Bilbo Baggins), whose uncanny ability to pop up unexpectedly – quasi the Middle-Earth Thomas Müller – should sow confusion among the opposition’s defence.
The midfield sees Bombur adopting the Jan Molby role in the centre, flanked by Bard, the noted free kick specialist, and the Lord of the Eagles, who gets the nod over a disappointed Dwalin to provide more height at corners.
Kili and Fili will work the flanks, bringing width in attack and adding youthful speed to an aged, if experienced, defence.
With the slender Gandalf marshalling the team from the rear, and Elrond the creative, ball-playing centre back, Beorn (better known to his fans as “The Beast”) adds much needed steel to the back three.
After some strong early results, including a surprising away win in Moria, commentators predict good things for the team. The only question mark remains the goalkeeper position. Though good on the ground, Dain has proved vulnerable to high balls in the past, a point that will not have gone unnoticed by well-informed opponents.