Your latest edition is once again rudely dominated by the Internationals, with several Premier League stars involved for their country in the World Cup qualifiers. With no games in the top flight to digress over for your pleasure (you’re welcome), it offered the opportunity to see some of the fringe players finally get a game to be placed into unfamiliar territory and play.
Where else to start than the World Cup final of the World Cup qualifiers (Over the top?), the Celtic derby in Cardiff between Wales and the Republic of Ireland. Preluding with a spine-tingling rendition of the world’s greatest national anthem, Mae Hen Wlad fy Nhadau, the game had all the hallmarks of a classic in what was effectively a winner takes all. And it was the Irish who came out on top here. To vaguely quote Julius Caesar, “they came, they saw, and they conquered”.
Manager Chris Coleman’s game plan was clearly thrown out the window when Stoke City’s Joe Allen (Welsh Xavi) was clattered by both FIFA obsessed David Meyler, and James McClean. The early withdrawal forced Wales to exacerbate, and the game was settled in the second half when McClean capitalised on a host of errors at the back (well, Ashley Williams and Wayne Hennessey) and took the Irish through to the playoffs. A miserable night for this bitter Welshman here but good luck to the ROI.
Gareth Southgate’s message to the public that the England team will get better was loud and clear, on paper. For on paper, England’s form in qualifying for Russia was outstanding. If you have had the misfortune to watch most of the games, it had been anything but. Both Spurs Team-mates Dele Alli and Harry Kane produced below-par performances out in Lithuania, however both contributed to a 1-0 win with the former winning a penalty, and the latter tucking the resulting pen home. How often do we see that? In Russia, Panama will be waiting.
Neighbours Scotland’s wee hopes of reaching a tournament came to a dramatic end in Slovakia, in what proved to be Gordon Strachan’s last game in charge. Despite a valiant effort, a late equaliser by Robert Snodgrass wasn’t enough to earn the win, now they will have to do it all again in the UEFA Nations League. With Malky Mackay (sacked by Wigan) being placed in interim charge for their friendly against the Netherlands, a few Scots have already turned their back on the team until he is replaced. Their 2-2 draw confirmed Northern Ireland’s place in the play off’s, despite them suffering defeats in their final two games.
Mind games was on the agenda on Friday morning, when Pep Guardiola described Tottenham as ‘The Harry Kane Team’. In a pretty lively press conference, Mauricio Pochettino hit back accusing Pep of being ‘disrespectful’. He’s right, you know. Though it must also be disrespectful on Kane’s part. After all, his prestige would be less apparent if he was selfishly refusing to bury the number of chances set up as you’d expect with a magician such as Christian Eriksen in your side.
The top flight returns this weekend and Anfield takes centre stage with Liverpool hosting Man Utd. Remember last season’s epic encounter when Mourinho played for a goalless draw? Me neither.
I, for one, cannot wait!