August 30, 2016

FREE KICKS: Why an International break now?

by Dan Bilicki In: Soccer

After three pretty exciting weeks of play in the Premier League, we’re all set for a mammoth Manchester derby in Gameweek 4.

But, instead of keeping the momentum going from the start of the season, we’re going to have to wait.

Yes, it’s the first international break of the season, with clubs sending their best and brightest to compete for their countries. At least it’s not just a round of friendlies, these matches are World Cup qualifiers for Russia 2018.

While we understand the need to play these games, why couldn’t they be pushed back a little bit?

This early in the season, momentum can mean a lot.

Think about a club like Hull City, which has been incredible despite being shorthanded and without a manager through three games. The Tigers almost held Man U to a draw before finally conceding in injury time. Taking a week off will likely only slow them down.

Other European leagues have only played two games – there’s even less of a need for them to have a break.

If FIFA was smart, it would, at the very least, push back this break at least another week. Four games played is at least more than 10% of the schedule and should be the bare minimum before what’s essentially a bye for most clubs.

EMPTY CUP, FULL CUP

Last week we got our first taste of the EFL Cup.

What’s the EFL Cup, you ask? Well, it’s the new name of the old League Cup, or Capital One Cup, or whatever other name it has been called.

Whatever the illegitimate brother of the FA Cup is called, clubs from the Premier League are now involved – well, some of them at least.

Liverpool and Chelsea went all out because, well, why wouldn’t they considering they’re not in Europe this year. Their opposition had little chance against the big clubs.

But, shockingly, four Premier League teams bit the dust despite this being just the second round of competition – and while facing lower-league sides!

West Brom lost on penalties to Northampton Town while Watford went down at the hands of Gillingham FC – both League One squads. Middlesbrough was at least knocked out by former Premier League mainstay Fulham, but the most embarrassing loss goes to Burnley.

The Clarets couldn’t handle Accrington Stanley, a team that is currently 20th in League Two. Yes, that’s 75 places below them in the English tables.

But the best match of the round had to have been Derby County’s win over Carlisle United. The Rams finally topped the League Two side by winning on penalties 14-13.

PLAYER OF THE WEEK

It was pretty close to call between Raheem Sterling and Alexis Sanchez, but I have to give the Man City winger the edge this week.

The resurgent Sterling had two goals, including the insurance marker to ice the game on a nice little move to round ’keeper Adrian. I honestly thought there was no way he was going to poke the ball in at that angle with a defender coming at him, but he was unstoppable.

He’s showing the form that he did with Liverpool that earned him last year’s big-money move to City and if he keeps this up, he could finally reach the potential we know he has.

But credit also has to go to the Gunners star, too, for his goal and assist against Watford.

AROUND THE LEAGUE

West Brom picked up a clean sheet in a 0-0 draw with Middlesbrough on Sunday. It was the Baggies’ 22nd clean sheet since hiring Tony Pulis in January 2015. Impressive? I think so, considering only Arsenal and Manchester United have more clean sheets during that period of time. Of course, they’ve also scored a lot more goals … Marcus Rashford is going to be one of the top impact subs in the league this season. The only real question about his future is if he’ll be able to produce these moments of magic – like his winner this week against Hull – when he’s asked to play more than 20 minutes per game … That substitution of Anthony Martial really hurt some fantasy players. Had he stayed on another minute, he would’ve score three points instead of one … John Stones’ early sub likely rubbed some fantasy owners the wrong way, too … Kasper Schmeichel was subbed off after aggravating his hernia, but despite having surgery this week to repair it, he might even play for Denmark over the break. If I were Leicester City, I’d demand he be held out to recover … Jamie Vardy’s first goal of the season was just about as “Jamie Vardy” as a goal gets … Through Saturday, there had been 13 penalties taken through 27 games … Diego Costa didn’t get a yellow card! Well, he didn’t score either. Maybe the two go hand in hand? It’s not like Chelsea needed Costa to score this week, anyway … Liverpool is going have some five-goal games this season. That offence will light somebody up really soon.

THE LAST WORD

The Joe Hart era has come to an end in Manchester.

After being dropped to the bench by Pep Guardiola in favour of Willy Caballero, it was only a matter of time before a true replacement was found that fit the new manager’s style a bit better.

That replacement arrived in the form of Barcelona’s Claudio Bravo and that sealed the England No. 1’s departure.

On Tuesday, Hart found a new home. He’s reportedly set to join Torino, which seems like an odd move when you consider that English internationals rarely leave the Premier League.

I’m sure there was no shortage of English suitors for Hart (cough, Everton, cough), but perhaps he wants to escape the spotlight for a bit. Playing in Italy will provide a bit of a cushion from the media that has been breathing down his neck for years and piling on the pressure. This move could actually allow Hart to reach his potential.

Back in Spain, Bravo’s replacement, Marc-Andre Ter Stegen set the La Liga record by completing 50 passes in a game. Maybe Pep got the wrong keeper?

Follow me on Twitter @danbilicki

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