Most football fans dread it, the weekend dead, messed up and all – the international break that is. Teams are most likely to have a few of their players overly fatigued, injured and bug-bitten, leaving them short, especially now that there’s that thing they call the “UEFA NATIONS LEAGUE” among the European countries. International breaks are not a joke anymore, national teams actually want to win, making it all the more competitive thus pushing the players to their limit and sucking the energy out of them. Good news though, NO INTERNATIONAL BREAKS UNTIL MARCH, the football is back, the real football is back, If you get what I mean.
The race at the top of the Premier League has been extremely heated thus far, Manchester City 32 and unbeaten, Liverpool 30, unbeaten, Chelsea 28, unbeaten, that’s three of them, three! And that’s a first. Even Arsenal who have been on a 10-match unbeaten run in the league are only 5th on the table and oh here’s a stat; Arsenal have won 7 drawn 3 and lost two, same as Barcelona in the Spanish La Liga who are top of the pile in the league, meaning Spurs, who have had quite an indifferent season in terms of performances are better off with regards to points amassed than all of Spain’s elite. Make of that as you will but that clearly goes to indicate one fact; it really is that tight at the top.
THE LONDON DERBY
It’s a huge match they have on their hands this weekend,especially for Spurs one who have found it very difficult against The Blues until recently where they seem to have somewhat been able to compete at least, even for that, it’s been just the three wins in six for the Lily-Whites including last season’s victory at The Bridge, it had been three victories in the previous 49 before then. Spurs fans still have that scar from the fixture in the 15/16 season, the match that effectively handed Leicester City the title, one of the few title races they’ve been involved in in recent memory. They’ll be pumped for this one more so because last season’s corresponding fixture ended in victory for the Blues even at Wembley.
Spurs head into the game only one point behind their rivals an impressive achievement in itself given that they’ve had a lot of key injuries this term. A Juan Foyth goal against Palace proved all so pivotal especially in a week where both Chelsea and Arsenal played out underwhelming draws. For Mauricio Pochetino’s side the break came at a bad time as they were on a run of five wins out of six and gathering a bit of momentum.
Maurizio Sarri became the first Chelsea manager to go unbeaten in his first twelve as Chelsea drew goalless with Everton before the International break. Chelsea have drawn three out of their last six against Man United, Liverpool and Everton. It’s fair to say that The Blues haven’t had it that rosy in the big games against top-six opponents this season apart from beating Arsenal at the Bridge in the second game of the season a game they could have easily lost if not for Arsenal’s misfiring attack. Chelsea would look to right that recent wrong against Spurs.
HAZARD v KANE
Eden Hazard is having his best season yet, he’s scored seven and set up another four, it’s the type of game he fancies the Belgian, seeing as it was him who ended Spurs’ hopes for that title in 15/16 in the only match he managed to turn up that whole season, the bar has been raised for Hazard this season, some say 40, 45 what not, surprising to say the least especially for someone who’s never even hit 20 goals but you can understand, he himself says it all the time – Sarriball has liberated him.
On Saturday it’ll be a battle he’ll relish against Serge Aurier, the Ivorian will fill in for Kieran Trippier who’s out injured and that will be an area of concern for Spurs given Aurier’s knack for the occasional lapse in concentration and his tendency to get too involved, it’ll be interesting to see how it goes.
Spurs on the other hand will look to Kane for the magic, it’s been him all these couple of years hasn’t it? Although he’s managed just the six goals this season his influence on the team is unquestionable. If Harry Kane is on his day there are not many better, come May he’ll be up there challenging for the top-scorer gong yet again, there’s absolutely no doubt about that. It’ll be a massive test for Antonio Rudiger and David Luiz, they’ve been impressive you must admit, Rudiger especially but you always feel Luiz has that mistake in him, that momentary lapse in concentration just as Serge Aurier, he and that Chelsea back-line must bring their A-game or Kane and Spurs take them to the cleaners.
The International break has been kinder to Chelsea this time, they have Matteo Kovacic back in full training Maurizio Sarri says, Kovacic will look to battle Ross Barkley for a place alongside NG’olo Kante and Jorginho in Chelsea’s midfield.
Spurs have Davinson Sanchez out with a hamstring injury, the Colombian has slightly waned off after a promising start to the season, the emergence of young Juan Foyth has not done him any favours either. It’ll be interesting to see how or whether and much he minutes he gets after full recovery.
Kieran Trippier and Danny Rose are also both out due to groin injuries. Spurs though have good news in the form of Jan Vertonghen, the Belgium returned to full training on Thursday but Saturday might come too early for him. Mousa Dembele is however another long-term absentee with an ankle injury.
The battle of the two Mauri’s will see two of the best managers in the league go head to head for the first time. As far as expectations go, we hope to see football that entertains, thrills and excites, thankfully, both sides favour that approach, so for what’s at stake at least, we hope it delivers like it has in recent times.