April 4, 2017

FREE KICKS: Catching an international break

by Dan Bilicki In: Soccer

Have we finally seen a little chink in Chelsea’s armour?

Coming off the international break, the Blues didn’t look like the same cohesive unit they have been all season. And they paid for it, losing to London rivals Crystal Palace, just the league leaders’ second home loss of the season.

Palace has been in fine form recently, but this result was completely unexpected.

With another tough fixture against Manchester City midweek, Chelsea can’t afford another stumble. Tottenham closed the gap to seven points with the loss on the weekend and another swing like this would cut it further to just four.

Yes, we might just have a title race after all.


He’s definitely not the most consistent player in the Premier League, but Philippe Coutinho sure can shine every once in a while.

The Brazilian came up big with quite the pretty goal and an assist in Liverpool’s Merseyside Derby win on Saturday morning.

Liverpool took advantage of the injury-hit Toffees – more on that in The Last Word – to take third in the table and move closer to Chelsea. Perhaps most importantly, the Reds pulled further away from Manchester United in their quest for Champions League football next season.

The biggest question about Coutinho is now whether or not he can put in some more performances like this one. With Sadio Mane suffering a nasty-looking leg injury, the weight of the Reds attack may fall on Coutinho going forward.


Which was the more questionable decision: Chelsea starting Pedro as one of their wingbacks or City starting Jesus Navas at right back? I’ll say Navas, who had some pretty rough-looking tackles and could’ve easily picked up another yellow card or two … What a beautiful pass to start the breakout on Chelsea’s lone goal. That was elegant long ball if I’ve ever seen it and solid dribbling work from Eden Hazard, as well … Speaking of great footwork, Christian Benteke’s chip on the winner showed what the Belgian is capable of. Liverpool fans must’ve wondered where that was last year … So, is Arsene Wenger actually going to leave, or is he going to sign a two-year extension, as reportedly offered by the Gunners. I don’t know if I can take two more years of “Wenger out” signs everywhere I look … Sunderland struggled yet again and this side is looking doomed. It’s a shame, really, after watching Jermain Defoe’s heart-warming moment with that kid during the break … Andy Carroll netted his 50th Premier League goal, which is something that probably should’ve happened a long time ago for the oft-injured English striker … Jamie Vardy is on fire and Leicester wins again. If this team is kept together next season, the Foxes could make some noise again … Mason Holgate, Matthew Pennington and Dominic Calvert-Lewin? Did Everton know this wasn’t a U19 game? … You can’t miss penalties much worse than Harry Arter did for Bournemouth … How does West Ham collapse like that against Hull City? The Hammers should be better than that … It’s new manager, same result, as Middlesbrough still can’t score. At least it gained a point in its 0-0 draw against Swansea, but ties won’t help when you’re five points from safety.


It’s a pretty close race to decide who lost the international break the most, but it’s hard to argue that both Everton and Manchester United both suffered some terrible setbacks on their week off.

Both teams lost two key defenders in completely different fashions. United’s were on the comical side while the Toffees were brutal.

Phil Jones has been ruled out for a for at least a few games with a reported broken toe, suffered on a tackle by Red Devils teammate Chris Smalling during an England practice. Then, Smalling suffered a serious knee injury and is unlikely to return this season.

Everton wasn’t laughing when it saw superstar right back Seamus Coleman get taken down with a horror tackle by Neil Taylor, breaking his leg in two places during a Wales-Ireland match. He could be out up to a year, which is undisputedly terrible news for not just Everton fans, but football fans in general.

Then, a few days later, Ramiro Funes Mori injured his knee during a game with Argentina and will miss the rest of the season. That’s two starting defenders down for Everton in a matter of days.

While there will never be a movement to keep players out of international games, it’s truly terrible to see two teams in contention for European places suffer setbacks like this.

Follow me on Twitter @danbilicki

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